. 24/7 Space News .
To find life on other planets, NASA rocket team looks to the stars
by Miles Hatfield for GSFC News
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Nov 05, 2021

A size comparison of main sequence Morgan-Keenan classifications. Main sequence stars are those that fuse hydrogen into helium in their cores. The Morgan-Keenan system shown here classifies stars based on their spectral characteristics. Our Sun is a G-type star. SISTINE-2's target is Procyon A, an F-type star.

A NASA sounding rocket will observe a nearby star to learn how starlight affects the atmospheres of exoplanets - key information in the hunt for life outside our solar system.

Using an updated instrument first launched in 2019, the mission has a new target: Procyon A, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. But its question remains the same: How does a star's light affect potential signs of life on planets that orbit it?

The Suborbital Imaging Spectrograph for Transition region Irradiance from Nearby Exoplanet host stars, or SISTINE-2, mission will have its first opportunity to launch from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Nov. 8.

Answering the question of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe is beset with technical challenges. We can't yet travel to planets around other stars, called exoplanets, to see for ourselves. Nor are our telescopes powerful enough to see their surfaces.

Instead, astronomers look to an exoplanet's atmosphere, scouring it for traces of chemicals associated with life. Water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other so-called biomarkers produce unique patterns of light that telescopes can detect from afar. But to interpret them correctly, astronomers must look to the planet's star.

"The interplay between the planet's atmosphere and ultraviolet light from the host star determines which gases serve as the best biomarkers," said Kevin France, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the principal investigator for the mission.

Some ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths, for instance, can break down carbon dioxide, freeing a single oxygen atom to combine with others and form molecular oxygen (made of two oxygen atoms) or ozone (made of three). Stars that shed enough of this light can create spurious biomarkers on their planets, sending astronomers searching in the wrong places.

The SISTINE team aims to avoid this quandary by creating a guide to the wavelengths each kind of star emits. There are many different types of stars, and we don't yet have a complete picture of their light output or how it varies over time. With a catalog of starlight, scientists could estimate if a detected biomarker is either a potential sign of life or a false signal cooked up by pesky starlight.

On its upcoming flight, SISTINE-2 will observe Procyon A, some 11.5 light-years away. Procyon A is an F-type star, which is slightly larger, hotter, and brighter than our Sun. Though it does not have any known exoplanets, studying Procyon A can help us understand F-type stars and their exoplanets throughout the universe.

"Knowing the ultraviolet spectra of these stars will help us find the most promising star-planet environments with future NASA observatories," France said.

SISTINE-2 comprises a telescope and an instrument known as a spectrograph, which breaks light into its separate colors. SISTINE-2 will focus on ultraviolet light from 100 to 160 nanometers, a range that includes wavelengths known to produce false positive biomarkers.

By combining their data with existing observations of X-ray, extreme ultraviolet, and visible light from other F-type stars, the team hopes to assemble a reference spectrum that will help astronomers interpret biomarkers on exoplanets orbiting F-type stars.

SISTINE-2 is also testing hardware. Before its 2019 flight, the team applied an enhanced lithium fluoride optical coating to the instrument's mirrors to improve its UV reflectivity. The results some three years later help evaluate whether this specialized coating may be suitable for larger, longer-duration space missions.

As in its 2019 flight, the instrument will launch on a sounding rocket, a small suborbital rocket that makes brief observations in space before falling back to Earth. Ascending to an estimated altitude of about 174 miles (280 kilometers) to access ultraviolet light otherwise absorbed by our atmosphere, SISTINE-2 will observe Procyon A for about five minutes. The instrument will then fall back to Earth, descending by parachute for recovery and refurbishing.

The team hopes for a soft landing to aid in a quick turnaround to be ready for its third launch in July 2022, from the Arnhem Space Centre in Nhulunbuy, Australia. There, a refurbished SISTINE instrument will observe Alpha Centauri A and B, G- and K-type stars, respectively, similar to and slightly cooler than our Sun, and the closest such stars to us.

This system is also home to Proxima Centauri, a cool red dwarf star orbited by the closest known exoplanet, Proxima B. These observations will add additional entries to the growing star catalog - small but critical steps in the search for life.

Related Links
NASA Sounding Rockets
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth

Thanks for being there;
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 Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

Key role of the reactor surface in Miller's experiment on the molecular origin of life
Madrid, Spain (SPX) Nov 03, 2021
A team of researchers from the CSIC and the University of Tuscia (Italy) has demonstrated the role that glass played in the historical experiment carried out by Stanley Miller in 1952 to simulate the conditions that would have given rise to life on the early Earth. The results, published in Scientific Reports, open a new way to study the emergence of life. Miller built a glass apparatus into which he poured water to simulate the early ocean and a mixture of gases (methane, ammonia, and hydrogen) t ... read more

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

Harris to announce first National Space Council meeting in nearly a year

Virgin Galactic has sold 100 more space tickets

NASA, SpaceX Reviewing Commercial Crew Rotation Plans

Mind the stars

New agreement between Virgin Orbit and ANA Holdings sets the stage for 20 Launcherone flights from Japan

ISS astronauts return to Earth in SpaceX craft after 6-month mission

NASA's big new moon rocket is stacked, awaiting launch

Last call: fly your payload on first Ariane 6 launch

Sols 3287-3288: Assessing a New Potential Drill Target

Smart focus on Mars

Sols 3289-3291: Go For Drilling on Zechstein!

Researchers begin to understand correlation of schumann resonances and dust storms on Mars

Astronaut becomes first Chinese woman to spacewalk

Shenzhou XIII crew ready for first spacewalk

Chinese astronauts arrive at space station for longest mission

China's longest-yet crewed space mission impressive, expert says

OneWeb and Leonardo DRS announce partnership to offer low earth orbit services for Pentagon

Intelsat and OneWeb demo global multi-orbit satellite service to Pentagon

iRocket And Turion Space ink agreement for 10 launches to low earth orbit

BT secures industry first Global Partnership with OneWeb

Mystery object detected near China's space debris cleaner fuels fears of 'satellite-crushing weapon'

Digantara and OrbAstro announce service agreement for space debris tracking mission on 6U satellite

Georgia State University astronomy researcher wins grant to improve detection, monitoring of satellites

Tiny grains, severe damage: Hypervelocity dust impacts on a spacecraft produce plasma explosions and debris clouds

Tidying up planetary nurseries

To find life on other planets, NASA rocket team looks to the stars

Rocky Exoplanets Are Even Stranger Than We Thought

Key role of the reactor surface in Miller's experiment on the molecular origin of life

Science results offer first 3D view of Jupiter's atmosphere

Juno peers deep into Jupiter's colorful belts and zones

Scientists find strange black 'superionic ice' that could exist inside other planets

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is deeper than thought, shaped like lens

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - 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. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.