The path followed by the James Webb Space Telescope to search for life on other planets

Artist’s concept of exoplanet GJ 9827d, the smallest that has been found to have water vapor in its atmosphere. (Credit: NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak and Ralph Crawford)

In its Search for extraterrestrial life forms or its signatures In the distant world, the mighty James Webb Space Telescope NASA has managed to establish a chemical formula which can identify exoplanets High chances of habitability.

Using JWST, Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Birmingham Said that this is the best opportunity for astronomers Find liquid water, and even life on other planets, What is to be sought is the absence rather than the presence of any chemical feature in their atmospheres.

Researchers propose this If there is very little carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a terrestrial planet Compared to other planets in the same system, this may be a sign of liquid water (and possibly life) on the surface of that distant planet. And this new signal, they claim, is of relatively reduced carbon dioxide The only signs of habitability that can be detected are the technology available to us now.

By analyzing the atmospheric composition of exoplanets, Webb can predict whether there are conditions for life to develop (NASA)

“The Holy Grail in exoplanet science is discovering habitable worlds and the presence of life, but the features discussed so far are beyond the reach of the latest observatories. But now we have a way to find out if there is liquid water on another planet. And this is something we can achieve in the coming years,” said astronomer Julian de Wit, professor of planetary science at MIT, co-author of the study recently published in the journal Nature. Nature Astronomy.

advised by infobae About this relevant discovery, astronomer claudio martinezexplained that “Terrestrial planets outside Earth that are originally in the Sun’s zone or life zone Mars and Venus, which are characterized by having a lot of carbon dioxide in their atmospheres,

“The point is that Earth doesn’t have it and one mechanism to capture it is the oceans. Which absorbs it. This study suggests that the reduction in carbon dioxide indicates that there is water on the planet and infers that this water could support life. In short, there are a lot of assumptions,” explained Martínez.

And I add: “This doesn’t mean that you find a planet with low carbon dioxide and immediately conclude that there is life there. There are actually other better ways to detect it, but at that distance we don’t have the technology available yet to do it. And since James Webb could detect these droplets of carbon dioxide, the possible existence of an ocean could be inferred. but this is the reality ‘It’s an arrow in the dark’ Because in particular it’s not going to define anything about the actual existence of life on a planet with low rates of carbon dioxide.

James Webb’s first view of an exoplanet (NASA)

So far, Astronomers have discovered more than 5580 worlds Outside our solar system. With today’s telescopes, astronomers can directly measure a planet’s distance from its star and the time it takes to complete an orbit. They Measurements can help scientists predict whether a planet is in the habitable zone. But there is no way to directly confirm whether a planet is actually habitable, that is, liquid water exists on its surface.

Throughout our solar system, scientists can trace Presence of liquid oceans Overview “Sparkles”, They are flashes of sunlight reflected off liquid surfaces.

These flashes, or specular reflections, have been observed, for example Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, which helped confirm that moon’s large lakes. Similarly, subsequent studies and even NASA missions sent to study this world indicated that there is abundant oceans of methane, not water.

This artistic view of Earth and the Sun from thousands of kilometers above our planet shows that stars (with exoplanets in their own systems) can move in and out of position to view Earth as they transit the Sun. (Open Space/American Museum of Natural History)

However, detecting similar brightness on distant planets is beyond the reach of current technologies. But De Wit and his colleagues realized there was another habitable feature closer to home that could be detected on distant worlds.

,Looking at what’s happening to terrestrial planets in our own system gave us an ideaCalled a triad. Venus, Earth, and Mars have similarities, as all three are rocky and reside in a relatively temperate zone relative to the Sun. Earth is the only planet of the three that currently has liquid water. And the team noticed another glaring difference: There is significantly less carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

“We believe that these planets were formed in this way, and if we now see a planet with very little carbon, this element must have gone somewhere. And the only process that could eliminate that amount of carbon from the atmosphere is a strong water cycle involving oceans of liquid water,” the expert concluded.

An artist’s image, provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, of what the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f might look like, based on available data on its diameter, mass, and distance from the star it orbits. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)

Earth’s oceans have played an important and continuing role in absorbing carbon dioxide, Over hundreds of millions of years, the oceans have absorbed enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, roughly equal to the amount present in Venus’s atmosphere today. This planetary-scale effect has caused Earth’s atmosphere to contain significantly less carbon dioxide than its neighboring planets.

“On Earth, much of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been stored in seawater and solid rock over geological time scales, helping to regulate climate and habitability for billions of years,” said study co-author Frieder Klein. Found.”

the team thought so If a similar reduction of carbon dioxide were detected on a distant planet, Relative to its neighbors, it would be a reliable indication of liquid oceans and life on their surface. “After conducting a comprehensive review of the literature from many fields, from biology to chemistry and even carbon sequestration in the context of climate change, we believe that, indeed, if we were to detect carbon sequestration If there are, there’s a good chance it will be a strong sign of liquid water and/or life,” De Wit said.

James Webb Study on Existence of Water on Exoplanet WASP-18b

In their study, the team presents a Strategy to detect habitable planets By searching for signs of exhausted carbon dioxide. Such a search would work best for “pea in a pod” type systems, in which multiple terrestrial planets, all about the same size, orbit relatively close to each other, similar to our own Solar System. The first step proposed by the team is Confirm that planets have atmospheres, Just look for the presence of carbon dioxide, which is expected to dominate the atmospheres of most planets.

“Carbon dioxide is a very strong absorber in the infrared view and can be easily detected in the atmospheres of exoplanets,” James Webb said. And Carbon dioxide signal may reveal presence of exoplanet atmospheres”explains De Wit.

Once astronomers have determined that multiple planets in a system host atmospheres, they can move on to measuring their carbon dioxide content to see if one planet has significantly more than the other. is less. If so, then the planet is probably habitable, meaning that significant masses of liquid water exist on its surface.

Exoplanet Kepler-62e has been reported by NASA to be located 1,200 light years away from Earth. (Reuters/NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech)

Similarly, habitable conditions do not mean that a planet is inhabited. To see if life might actually exist, the team proposes that astronomers look for another feature in a planet’s atmosphere: Ozone.

On Earth, researchers note that plants and some microbes contribute to carbon dioxide removal, although not as much as the oceans. However, as part of this process, life forms emit oxygen, which reacts with photons from the Sun and is transformed into Ozone, a molecule that is much easier to detect than oxygen.

Researchers say that if a planet’s atmosphere shows signs of both reduced ozone and reduced carbon dioxide, it is likely a habitable, inhabited world. “If we look at ozone, there’s a good chance it’s related to carbon dioxide consumed by life. And if this is life, it is a glorious life. It won’t just be some bacteria. This would be a biomass on a planetary scale that would be able to process enormous amounts of carbon and interact with it,” Triad said.

7 planets of the Trappist system, which will soon be analyzed by James Webb (NASA).

The team estimates that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope could measure carbon dioxide, and possibly ozone, in nearby multiplanet systems like TRAPPIST-1, a 7-planet system orbiting a bright star just 40 light-years from Earth .

“TRAPPIST-1 is one of the few systems where we can do terrestrial atmospheric studies with JWST. We now have a roadmap to finding habitable planets. If we all work together, in the coming years we will be able to make discoveries that will change the paradigm,” De Wit explained.

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