Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .




Subscribe free to our newsletters via your




















EXO WORLDS
Inventing Tools for Detecting Life Elsewhere with Future Telescopes
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (SPX) Mar 31, 2017


Artist's rendering of the future Thirty Meter Telescope. Image courtesy Caltech/IPAC-TMT.

Recently, astronomers announced the discovery that a star called TRAPPIST-1 is orbited by seven Earth-size planets. Three of the planets reside in the "habitable zone," the region around a star where liquid water is most likely to exist on the surface of a rocky planet. Other potentially habitable worlds have also been discovered in recent years, leaving many people wondering: How do we find out if these planets actually host life?

At Caltech, in the Exoplanet Technology Laboratory, or ET Lab, of Associate Professor of Astronomy Dimitri Mawet, researchers have been busy developing a new strategy for scanning exoplanets for biosignatures - signs of life such as oxygen molecules and methane. These chemicals - which don't naturally stick around for long because they bind with other chemicals - are abundant on Earth largely thanks to the living creatures that expel them. Finding both of these chemicals around another planet would be a strong indicator of the presence of life.

In two new papers to be published in The Astrophysical Journal and The Astronomical Journal, Mawet's team demonstrates how this new technique, called high-dispersion coronagraphy, could be used to look for extraterrestrial biosignatures with the planned Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), which, when completed by the late 2020s, will be the world's largest optical telescope.

Using theoretical and laboratory models, the researchers show that this technique could detect biosignatures on Earth-like planets around M-dwarf stars, which are smaller and cooler than our Sun and the most common type of star in the galaxy. The strategy could also be used on stars like our own Sun, using future space telescopes such as NASA's proposed Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) and Large UV/Optical/IR Surveyor (LUVOIR).

"We've shown this technique works in theory and in the lab, so our next step is to show it works on the sky," says Ji Wang, one of the lead authors on the two new papers and a postdoctoral scholar in the Mawet lab. The team will test the instrumentation on the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii this year or next.

The new technique involves three main components: a coronagraph, a set of optical fibers, and a high-resolution spectrometer. Coronagraphs are devices used in telescopes to block or remove starlight so that planets can be imaged. Stars outshine their planets by a few thousand to a few billion times, making the planets difficult to see. Many different types of coronagraphs are in development; for example, Mawet's group recently installed and took initial images with its new vortex coronagraph on the Keck Observatory.

Once an image of a planet has been obtained, the next step is to study the planet's atmosphere using a spectrometer, an instrument that breaks apart the planet's light to reveal "fingerprints" of chemicals, such as oxygen and methane. Most coronagraphs work in conjunction with low-resolution spectrometers. Mawet's new technique incorporates a high-resolution spectrometer, which has several advantages.

One main advantage is in helping to further sift out the unwanted starlight. With high-resolution spectrometers, the spectral features of a planet are more detailed, making it easier to distinguish and separate the planet's light from the lurking starlight.

What this means is that, in Mawet's method, the coronagraph does not have to be as good at sifting out starlight as was thought necessary to characterize Earth-like worlds.

"This new technique doesn't require the coronagraph to work as hard, and that's important because we can use current technologies that are already available," says Mawet, who is also a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is managed by Caltech for NASA. "With a high-resolution spectrometer, we can improve the sensitivity of our system by a factor of 100 to 1,000 over current ground-based methods."

Another advantage of using high-resolution spectrometers lies in the richness of the data. In addition to providing more detail about the molecular constituents of a planet's atmosphere, these instruments should be able to reveal a planet's rotation rate and provide rough maps of surface features and weather patterns. "It's a long shot, but we might even have the ability to look for continents on candidate Earth-like planets," says Mawet.

In the team's design, the coronagraph is connected to the high-resolution spectrometer using a set of optical fibers. Surprisingly, laboratory experiments revealed that the fibers also filter out starlight.

"This was completely serendipitous," says Garreth Ruane, co-author on the two new papers and a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in Mawet's group. "It's icing on the cake."

Next, the researchers will demonstrate their technique at the Keck Observatory. Although the instrumentation cannot yet study potential Earth-like planets - that will require the larger Thirty Meter Telescope - the system should be able to reveal new details about the atmospheres of larger gas exoplanets, including exotic varieties that are nothing like those in our own solar system.

"This new innovation of combining the coronagraph with a high-res spectrometer gives us a clear pathway to ultimately search for life beyond Earth."

The first study, titled "Observing Exoplanets with High-Dispersion Coronagraphy. I. The Scientific Potential of Current and Next-Generation Large Ground and Space Telescopes," led by Wang and appearing in The Astronomical Journal, includes Caltech co-authors Mawet, Ruane visiting associate Renyu Hu, and postdoctoral scholar Bjoern Benneke.

EXO WORLDS
Sun's UV Light Helped Spark Life
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Apr 02, 2017
High energy, ultraviolet radiation from the Sun is a known to hazard to life, yet the energy provided by our star has played an important role as the essential driver of life on Earth. Before life began, radiation from the Sun was the primary source of energy on our planet, just as it is today. In this oxygen-poor, prebiotic world, solar energy may have provided the jolt to transform simpl ... read more

Related Links
California Institute Of Technology
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once


credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly


paypal only

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

EXO WORLDS
US astronaut John Glenn is buried with military honors

Russia, Europe, US Should Work Together on Space Exploration - German Agency

United Launch Alliance Completes Crew Emergency Egress System

Robot Fedor to Guide Russia's Federation Spacecraft in Maiden Flight - Roscosmos

EXO WORLDS
US-Russia Venture Hopes to Sell More RD-180 Rocket Engines to US

Bezos sells $1 bn in Amazon stock yearly to pay for rocket firm

Kremlin Believes Russia Can Compete With Private Firms Like SpaceX in Space

US Hardware Production Begins for Money-Saving Next-Generation Rockets

EXO WORLDS
Russia critcal to ExoMars Project says Italian Space Agency Head

New MAVEN findings reveal how Mars' atmosphere was lost to space

Potential Mars Airplane Resumes Flight

Prolific Mars Orbiter Completes 50,000 Orbits

EXO WORLDS
Yuanwang fleet to carry out 19 space tracking tasks in 2017

China Develops Spaceship Capable of Moon Landing

Long March-7 Y2 ready for launch of China's first cargo spacecraft

China Seeks Space Rockets Launched from Airplanes

EXO WORLDS
Ukraine Plans to Launch Telecom Satellite in Fourth Quarter of 2017

Russian Satellite Builder Reshetnev Fully Switches to Import Substitution

Russia Offering Brazil to Develop Gonets-Like Satellite System - Manufacturer

Intelsat-OneWeb Merger: Enhanced Connections for Government Users

EXO WORLDS
Norway joins US Strategic Command space data sharing program

Citizen scientist photographs space station space debris from Earth

European conference on space debris risks and mitigation

SES and Thales Unveil Next-Generation Capabilities Onboard SES-17

EXO WORLDS
Inside Arctic ice lies a frozen rainforest of microorganisms

Exoplanet mission gets ticket to ride

TRAPPIST-1 flares threaten possibility of habitability on surrounding exoplanets

Atmosphere around super-earth detected

EXO WORLDS
Neptune's movement from the inner to the outer solar system was smooth and calm

Hubble takes close-up portrait of Jupiter

Four unknown objects being investigated in Planet X

New Horizons Halfway from Pluto to Next Flyby Target




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News






The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement