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New Exoplanet Life Detection Method for James Webb Telescope

Accepted submission by RandomFactor at 2020-01-07 01:01:04 from the breath dept.

A new method, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, could allow NASA's James Webb telescope to detect oxygen molecules [] in exoplanet atmospheres (a potential indicator of life).

As they [collide, oxygen molecules] block out a specific part of the infrared spectrum, and the new telescope will be able to see that and give scientists a clue to the distant worlds' atmosphere.
"Before our work, oxygen at similar levels as on Earth was thought to be undetectable with Webb," Thomas Fauchez, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

"This oxygen signal [has been] known since the early 1980s from Earth's atmospheric studies but has never been studied for exoplanet research."

On the Earth, oxygen is a byproduct of photosynthesis, a process whereby living organisms convert sunlight into chemical energy. For this reason, scientists believe its presence could be an indicator of life on exoplanets.

Spotting oxygen on a planet might not be a guarantee that something lives there. Scientists have proposed alternative explanations that could create oxygen on exoplanets, and so it might not be a definitive indication that the world is alive.​

Utilizing this collision induced absorption band at 6.4 μm, the scientists indicate that in some cases detection could occur within just a few transits.

Journal Reference: Sensitive probing of exoplanetary oxygen via mid-infrared collisional absorption, Nature Astronomy (DOI: doi:10.1038/s41550-019-0977-7 [])

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