Let There Be Water

Dr. Munr Kazmir
5 min readJun 2

Water, water, everywhere on Earth; is there a drop to drink anywhere else in the galaxy? According to the James Webb Telescope, signs point to yes.

“WASP-18 b, seen in an artist concept, is a gas giant exoplanet 10 times more massive than Jupiter that orbits its star in just 23 hours. Researchers used NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to study the planet as it moved behind its star. Temperatures there reach 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,700 C).” Artist Illustration Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (K. Miller/IPAC)

For those who haven’t been breathlessly following its progress, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, space-based observatory that was designed to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Since its triumphant launch on Christmas Day 2022, Webb has been wowing scientists and amateur stargazers with astounding new images of the cosmos.

Named after former NASA administrator James E. Webb, the JWST is a collaborative project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The primary goal of the James Webb Space Telescope is to observe the universe in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared light is longer in wavelength than visible light and can penetrate dust clouds, allowing astronomers to study objects and phenomena that are otherwise obscured or difficult to observe with other telescopes.

The telescope aims to study the formation and evolution of the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang, providing insights into the early universe.

Since its launch, the JWST has been busily investigating the atmospheres of exoplanets, searching for signs of habitability or the presence of key molecules such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane.

This week, Webb may have struck gold: Three times. Or rather, Webb may have struck something even more valuable than gold: Water.

Meet WASP-18.

“Webb analyzed the atmosphere of an ultrahot gas giant and mapped its temperatures,” announced NASA this week. “Despite scorching heat (nearly 5000 F or 2700 C), WASP-18 b has small amounts of atmospheric water — precisely measured due to Webb’s sensitivity.”

Besides WASP-18, Webb found water on one of Saturn’s moons.

“The infographic shows a diagram of Saturn, Enceladus, and its torus at the top, the NIRSpec image of Enceladus at the bottom left, and the spectra of the NIRSpec field of view at the bottom right. In the top diagram, Saturn is at the center, and the torus circles the planet like a donut. The square box around Enceladus within the torus in the top graphic has lines drawn to it from a box at the bottom left. In this box is the Webb NIRSpec image of Enceladus, with the torus, moon, plume and central areas labeled. These labels correspond to the 3 different horizontal lines on the plot. There are blue vertical columns scattered across the plot indicating where spikes in the line emissions represent the presence of water.” May 30, 2023. (Photo:Credits: Science: Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC). Illustration: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Leah Hustak (STScI))

“The Webb telescope has spotted a massive water emission from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, spanning over 6000 miles (9650 km) and gushing out at 79 gallons per second (about 299 liters per…