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NASA Code Red –“Holistic Search Needed for Evidence of Past and Present Life Elsewhere in the Universe”

zj527738e0-1 30 Meter Telscope Alien Life Astronomy Exoplanets Extraterrestrial Life GMT JWST NASA Science Science News Space technology

To answer significant questions about planetary systems, such as whether our solar system is a rare phenomenon or if life exists on planets other than Earth, NASA should lead a large direct imaging mission – an advanced space telescope – capable of studying Earth-like exoplanets orbiting stars similar to the sun, says a new congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The study of exoplanets – planets outside our solar system that orbit a star – has seen remarkable discoveries in the past decade. The report identifies two overarching goals in this field of science:

-To understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems as products of star formation and characterize the diversity of their architectures, composition, and environments.

-To learn enough about exoplanets to identify potentially habitable environments and search for scientific evidence of life on worlds orbiting other stars.

Based on these goals, the committee that authored the report found that our current knowledge of the range of characteristics of planets outside the solar system is substantially incomplete.

A holistic approach to studying habitability in exoplanets, using both theory and observations, will ultimately be required to search for evidence of past and present life elsewhere in the universe.

While the committee recognized that developing a direct imaging capability will require large financial investments and a long time scale to see results, the effort will foster the development of the scientific community and technological capacity to understand myriad worlds. To detect a system analogous to our own Earth-sun system, the report recommends using instruments that enable direct imaging of an exoplanet by blocking the light emitted by the parent stars – such as a coronagraph or starshade.

In addition, ground-based astronomy – enabled by two U.S.-led telescopes – will also play a pivotal role in studying planet formation and potentially terrestrial worlds, the report says. The future Giant Magellan telescope (GMT below) and proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) would allow profound advances in imaging and spectroscopy – absorption and emission of light – of entire planetary systems. They also could detect molecular oxygen in temperate terrestrial planets in transit around close and small stars, the report says.

maxresdefault-1-2 30 Meter Telscope Alien Life Astronomy Exoplanets Extraterrestrial Life GMT JWST NASA Science Science News Space technology

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