A new telescope will be able to spot alien life forms within hours of its launch into space this fall, scientists say, if all goes according to plan.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) allows scientists to take a closer look at planets that are most likely to harbor extraterrestrial life known as gas dwarfs.
Gas dwarves, also called super-earths or mini-neptunes, have a thick atmosphere filled with various gases that surround their hard rocky interiors.
Some of these gases, like ammonia, could be a sign that there are living organisms below the clouds.
However, since there are no gas dwarfs in our solar system, it has proven difficult to determine which ones have the correct gases.
Scientists at Ohio State University in the US have now found that NASA’s new telescope can detect ammonia and other signs of life in just 60 hours – or in a few orbits.
Caprice Phillips, the study author’s PhD student, said, “Mankind has pondered the questions: Are we alone? What is life Is life like us elsewhere? “
“My research suggests that for the first time we have the science and technology to realistically begin to find answers to these questions.”
The JWST is intended to replace NASA’s Hubble Telescope, which has orbited the Earth’s lower atmosphere since 1990.
The researchers modeled how the JWST’s instruments would react to different gas clouds and atmospheric conditions.
This enabled them to create a “ranking” in which the telescope should look for extraterrestrials.
If all goes well, the telescope could detect ammonia around six gas dwarf planets after multiple orbits on Earth, the researchers say.
Mr. Phillips said, “What really surprised me about the results is that we can realistically find signs of life on other planets in the next five to ten years.”
The JWST is being developed by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.
The launch was originally scheduled for 2007, but the project suffered numerous delays after it exceeded its budget.
In March 2018, the telescope’s sunshield tore open during a training mission and postponed the start again.
Work on the telescope was then stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the start date was postponed to October 2021.
Its main role is to look for light emitted by the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe after the Big Bang.
Also to study the formation of stars and planetary systems as well as the origins of life.
If everything goes according to plan, it will launch from French Guiana on board an Ariane 5 rocket.
The results were presented at the APS April 2021 meeting.