Scientists hope Webb will be the first step in identifying signs of life in space

Could there be life in space? Scientists hope the James Webb Space Telescope will help them get closer to the answer.

Astronomers have yet to find a solar system like ours. And of the thousands of known exoplanets, none can rival the planets in our cosmic backyard. But scientists have only just begun to scratch the surface of these planets outside the solar system. The next step is to look inside them.

Webb will take a look inside the atmospheres of exoplanets, some of which are potentially habitable. Ever since the first exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s, many have wondered if we might be able to find another Earth out there, a place called Planet B.

So far, study of these bodies hasn’t revealed another Earth, and it’s unlikely that even with technologies like the Webb, there won’t be a “true Earth analogue,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Sign of life: The Webb Telescope will look into the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting stars much smaller than our Sun. These planets are linked to an intriguing idea: What if life outside of Earth were different? And that’s what the successors of this telescope could study in the coming decades.

In fact, the task of identifying signs of life on other planets is already slated for future telescopes, like that outlined in the recently released ten-year Astro2020 survey, which will study 25 potentially habitable exoplanets.

“I really want us to be able to find life on something that doesn’t look very much like Earth,” said Nikole Lewis, an astrophysicist and assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

Life, as we understand it, needs energy, fluidity and the right temperature, she said. What happens when a potential sign of life is detected? Finding the sign is fantastic — and figuring out the next step is critical, said Sara Seager, an astrophysicist, planetary scientist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When it is determined that there is no other way to generate a potential sign of life, collaboration will be a key aspect, Lewis said. Collaborating with chemists, biologists and people from different disciplines outside of astronomy and planetary science can define the way forward.

“I hope that we’re being cautious and reaching out to all the relevant experts to try and understand if this is in fact a signature that could just mean there’s life on this planet, and then hopefully announced that one.” thing for the public,” Lewis said.

Jill Tarter, astronomer and former director of the Center for SETI Research, believes the answer to the search for life may be based on technosignatures rather than biosignatures, as the evidence for past or present technology is “potentially a lot less equivocal”.

Biosignatures can be gases or molecules showing signs of life. Technosignatures are signals that could be generated by intelligent life.

Read more about the search for life in space here.

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