Saturday, June 02, 2007

Detecting Conditions Favorable to Life on Other Planets

While some may want to believe that detecting planets, with environments that are hospitable to life, is something beyond our technological capacities, NASA would disagree. The Terrestrial Planet Finder evidences a belief that not only can conditions favorable to life be detected, but the effort to do so is also worthwhile. This from the linked article:

"The search for habitable planets and life is founded upon the premise that the effects of even the most basic forms of life on a planet are global, and that evidence for life, or biosignatures, from the planet's atmosphere or surface will be recognizable in the spectrum of the planet's light. Observations across as broad a wavelength range as possible are needed to fully characterize a planet's habitability and to detect signs of life.

Direct imaging detection and spectroscopic characterization of nearby Earthlike planets will be undertaken by the Terrestrial Planet Finder missions. The TPF Coronagraph (TPF-C), planned for launch in 2014, will operate at visible wavelengths. It will suppress the light of the central star to unprecedented levels, allowing it to search for terrestrial planets in ~150 nearby planetary systems. TPF-C will be followed about five years later by the TPF Interferometer (TPF-I). TPF-I will operate in the mid-IR and will survey a larger volume of our solar neighborhood, searching for terrestrial planets around as many as 500 nearby stars."


While plans for future missions are already underway NASA is not without existing data to support its views. This link discusses data about planets already discovered. From that article:

"Astronomers have captured enough light from two planets far beyond our own solar system to reveal details of their chemical make-up, marking a new phase in the search for extraterrestrial life.

By analysing the faint glow of one of these alien worlds they have found tentative evidence that suggests the presence of chemicals which play a role in one theory of how life began on Earth.

The chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, may have helped the formation of RNA, the ancestral genetic material of DNA, the building-blocks of life on our own planet.

Although this planet seems to lack water and is at a searing 800 C - which is thought to be much too hot for life - three teams announce today they have successfully carried out the feat on this and one other alien world, marking a breakthrough in the development of techniques capable of scouring the cosmos for signs of life."


NASA efforts offer opportunities to gather data that either confirm or caste doubt on the belief that life exists elsewhere in the cosmos.

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4 Comments:

At 5:15 AM, Blogger William Bradford said...

I notice this post corrects mistaken ideas found in comments in the preceeding post on planets. NASA does have the capability to evaluate whether planets have environments hospitable to life and in the near future will greatly enhance these capabilities.

In addition NASA assumes the outcome of the investigation is an open question that could be answered either way. No presumtion is made in advance either by NASA or this blog. As TP from Telic Thoughts might say: "Let's do science."

 
At 1:24 PM, Blogger dobson said...

I notice this post corrects mistaken ideas found in comments in the preceeding post on planets. NASA does have the capability to evaluate whether planets have environments hospitable to life and in the near future will greatly enhance these capabilities.

The techniques we currently have allow scientists to estimate the distance from the sun; the approximate mass and some of the atmospheric constituents.

This is not the same thing as testing whether the atmosphere is hosptable to life; for who knows what kind of life (if any at all) exists on these extra solar planets.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger William Bradford said...

Dobson, did you bother to read the post? What part of this is not relevant to testing for hospitality to life:

"Astronomers have captured enough light from two planets far beyond our own solar system to reveal details of their chemical make-up, marking a new phase in the search for extraterrestrial life.

By analysing the faint glow of one of these alien worlds they have found tentative evidence that suggests the presence of chemicals which play a role in one theory of how life began on Earth.

Although this planet seems to lack water and is at a searing 800 C - which is thought to be much too hot for life - three teams announce today they have successfully carried out the feat on this and one other alien world, marking a breakthrough in the development of techniques capable of scouring the cosmos for signs of life."


Do you think a waterless planet with a temperature of 800C might suggest that this planet is an unlikely location for life?

 
At 1:21 AM, Blogger dobson said...


Do you think a waterless planet with a temperature of 800C might suggest that this planet is an unlikely location for life?


It's not the sort of place where I would like to vacation, and it certainly could not support our kind of life, but my point was we just do not know what kind of life exists on other worlds (if any at all), and we do not know what kind of environment would count as ideal for this utterly unknown (and possibly fictional) life.

It's fun to speculate about this sort of thing, but I doubt that it will be possible to truly know if an extra solar planet supports life in our lifetime.

:-)

 

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