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Alien Life 'Inevitable' and we Could Detect it Within 20 Years - Discovery Channel Article

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posted on Aug, 7 2014 @ 03:10 AM

The first detection of ET may come from an analysis similar to this of Earth

One of the points I like to drive home on ATS is how close we are to having the capability to sniff out life on other, perhaps nearby worlds in our Galaxy. I've drawn the analogy to the search for exoplanets, prior to the first discovery in 1995. With regards to extraterrestrial life on planets around nearby stars, there is a good chance we're where the search for extrasolar planets was in the early 1980s.

We have hints of what might be out there but no detection yet.

It was only when more advanced instruments and faster computers debuted a decade later in the early 1990s did the search for planets around other stars turn from something which seemed almost impossibly hard to something which is now common place.

We're about to undergo a similar revolution and that is why you are starting to see numerous articles informing the general public that finding ET is not a matter of "if" anymore, nor is it some far off sci-fi concept but rather, it is the inevitable outcome of our almost unbelievably sophisticated next generation telescopes both on the ground and in space.

To that end there were two great articles on just that subject today. One on the site of the Discovery Channel and the other on

Here is an excerpt of a Discovery Channel article:

As astronomical instrumentation becomes more sophisticated, we are rapidly approaching a crossroads in the search for extraterrestrial life, according to a leading planetary scientist. It’s also “inevitable” that alien life exists in the universe given the preponderance of extrasolar planets that are being discovered — it’s up to us to seek out the extraterrestrial biosignatures.

These conclusions are outlined by Sara Seager, Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Aug. 4.

“In the coming decade or two, we will have a lucky handful of potentially habitable exoplanets with atmospheres that can be observed in detail with the next generation of sophisticated space telescopes,” writes Seager, pointing out that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and a planned direct-imaging space telescope will be able to seek out biosignatures (i.e. chemicals created by extraterrestrial biology) in the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets. The JWST is set for launch in 2018.

“Life can be inferred by the presence of atmospheric biosignature gases — gases produced by life that can accumulate to detectable levels in an exoplanet atmosphere,” she writes.

To date, a handful of exoplanetary atmospheres have been studied through the analysis of their host star’s light passing through their atmospheres. As an alien world orbits its star, from our perspective, it may block some of the starlight from view and be registered as a “transit.” The transit method is used by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and has so far confirmed the detection of hundreds of exoplanets. But this method can also help us analyze the chemicals contained in exoplanetary atmospheres.

During a transit, if that exoplanet has an atmosphere, some of the starlight is filtered through its atmosphere. Some wavelengths of that light are absorbed by specific chemicals, leaving a spectroscopic ‘fingerprint’ in the starlight we detect. Although only the largest class of exoplanets have so far had their atmospheres analyzed in this way (gas giants with tight orbits around their stars known as “hot-Jupiters”), Seager argues that with the advent of advanced space telescopes, the composition of smaller worlds’ atmospheres could also studied. Habitable “super-Earths” fall into this category.

Once this happens, we can begin to observe small rocky worlds, potentially detecting spectroscopic signatures of chemicals associated with life.

There's more so continue reading that article here.

I'd also like to point out there is a little known Spanish exoplanet search for Earths around nearby low mass, "red dwarf" stars called CARMENES which is due to start operating just next year in 2015.

Any interesting worlds it uncovers will be prime targets for the atmospheric sniffing referred to in the article above, first by the James Webb Space Telescope and later by the Hawaii-based Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) which just got approval to begin construction this fall and the European Extremely Large Telescope in Chile.

On to the article entitled "Space scientist sums up where we're at in the search for life on other planets" ...

Looking at a distant planet's atmosphere isn't easy, of course, scientists have two options—both involve studying planets as they pass in front of their star (transits). The first involves using telescopes that use mirrors to blot out the light from the star, leaving just data from the planet. The second approach involves deploying a starshade, a space vehicle positioned between a telescope and the object under study. The starshade blots out the light from the star, allowing for better examination of the planet and its atmosphere.

Fortunately for space science, new technology is on the way, the James Webb Space Telescope is set for launch in 2018—it's expected to offer unprecedented views of so-called super Earth's (those similar to Earth, but somewhat larger) though it will still rely on transits. What's really needed is new technology to allow for studying planets without having to wait for their transit.

The holdup is in figuring out how to capture imagery from such a relatively small object, one that is merely reflecting the light from its own star and is thus much dimmer. Seager suggests the solution is building much bigger telescopes with huge apertures. We'll have to wait as see, as only time will tell if we humans deem it important enough to invest the massive amount of money that would be needed for such a telescope.

Read more here

Of all the things we humans spend money on I can't imagine a more compelling question which can be answered with the right investment in technology than the two which have haunted us since the dawn of time: Are we alone? And if not, what else is out there?

For further reading see also: How to Search for E.T. by Scanning Alien Skies

Astrobiology Magazine: Alien Atmospheres – Methane, CFCs and Signs of Extraterrestrial “Intelligence” Astrophysicist seeks life on planets outside our solar system
edit on 7-8-2014 by JadeStar because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 7 2014 @ 05:10 AM
Excellent. I couldn't agree more! There are few things, in my opinion, that are more important than clearly answering the biggest enigma of our recorded history.

I think that even when we develop inter-stellar travel, at least in the early and beginning phases, that these telescopes will still play an important role in monitoring exo-planets and extra-solar systems. Hopefully we'll finally also figure out a way to communicate messages over vast distances in short amounts of time without the need for sending Human bodies in space craft!

This is what I live for. Everything extra- and exo-. Thanks for sharing.


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