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 haven’t yet found a solar system quite like ours. Of the thousands of known exoplanets, none quite match the planets in the cosmic backyard. But scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface of these planets outside the solar system. The next step is to look inside.

Webb will look at the atmospheres of exoplanets, some of which are likely habitable. Since the discovery of the first exoplanets in the 1990s, many have wondered if we might find another Earth there, a place called Planet B.

So far, studying these objects hasn’t revealed another Earth, said Klaus Pontopedan, Webb’s Space Project scientist, and it’s unlikely that even with technology like Webb, there wouldn’t be a “real Earth analogue” there. Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

life signs: The Webb Telescope will look inside the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting stars much smaller than our sun. These planets are connected to an interesting idea: what if life occurred differently outside of Earth? It is something that the successors of this telescope could investigate in the coming decades.

In fact, the task of identifying signs of life on other planets is already set for future telescopes, such as those shown in Recently released Astro2020 Contract Survey That would search 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 Nicole Lewis, an astrophysicist and assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University.
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She said that life, as we understand it, needs the right energy, fluids, and temperature. What happens when a possible sign of life is revealed? Finding the sign is fascinating — and knowing the next step is crucial, said Sarah Seeger, an astrophysicist, planetary scientist and professor at MIT.

If it is determined that there is no other way to create a potential sign of life, collaboration will be a key aspect, Lewis said. Engaging with chemists, biologists, and people from various disciplines outside of astronomy and planetary sciences can determine the path forward.

“Hopefully we’ll be careful, and we’ll reach out to all the experts involved to try and understand if this is, in fact, a signature that might just mean that life exists on this planet, and then hopefully announcing this,” Lewis said.

Jill Tarter, an astronomer and former director of the SETI Research Center, believes that the answer to finding life may rely on technical fingerprints, rather than biometrics, because the evidence for past or current technology is “potentially less ambiguous.”

Biometrics can be gases or particles that show signs of life. Technical signatures are signals that can be generated by intelligent life.

Read more about the search for life in space here.

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