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article imageNASA backed project to find alien life

By Tim Sandle     Jun 30, 2018 in Science
Is there life on other planets? This perennial question still fascinates. An international team of scientists, supported by NASA, have laid the groundwork for scanning the skies for life.
The group of researchers have published six studies designed to explain how scientists should be searching for exoplanets for signs of life, both now, and later using near-future technologies. An exoplanet is a planet outside our solar system. As of 2 June 2018, there are 3,786 confirmed planets in 2,834 systems, with 629 systems having more than one planet.
The different reviews form part of the Nexus for Exoplanet Systems Science (NExSS) program. This series of scientific inquiries is supported by NASA together with other space agencies and academic departments, stemming from an initial gathering that took place in Seattle in 2016.
Martin Still, NASA exoplanet scientist at Headquarters, Washington said in relation to the studies: "We’re moving from theorizing about life elsewhere in our galaxy to a robust science that will eventually give us the answer we seek to that profound question: Are we alone?"
New studies for alien life
The first six studies come from the University of Washington, the University of California-Riverside, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, as Extreme Tech reports. The focus is on what is currently known about detecting fr signs of life in a solar system other than our own. The first wave of studies show that for the goal to be achieved, multiple agencies in different countries need to collaborate.
Atmospheric signals
One piece of research is from the NASA Goddard Institute and it considers the types of signals that scientists should be looking for in order to assess whether there is life on another planet. The types of signals include atmospheric gases, such as oxygen and methane. Another example is with the detection of light from a planet's surface, which could be a sign of a life form, such as vegetation. This study is published in Astrobiology and it is titled "Exoplanet Biosignatures: At the Dawn of a New Era of Planetary Observations."
Biosignatures from planets
A second example is from the University of Washington which looks at biosignatures from exoplanets. This is based on chemical signatures to develop a scale of probability. This scale begins with “very likely to support life” down to “very unlikely to support life”. This study is also published in the Astrobiology journal, under the title "Exoplanet Biosignatures: A Framework for Their Assessment."
Using powerful telescopes
A third study focuses on how we might find life, examining the capabilities of the ESO Extremely Large Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope, which are trained to look for life. This includes scanning for rocky planets and gathering data relating to biosignatures. This is again led by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, with the research titled "Exoplanet Biosignatures: Observational Prospects."
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