Alien life promises to be found in 25 years: What scientists do to do that

Alien life promises to be found in 25 years: What scientists do to do that

Scientists have yet to find life on Mars, but one researcher believes that during the next quarter century mankind will discover its signs on planets outside the solar system. Sasha Kwanz, an astrophysicist from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, made this statement during the recent opening of a new university centre of origin and life.

In his press briefing, the scientist gave a detailed account of the technological projects that are currently being developed, and they will finally allow us to finally answer the question of whether we are alone in the universe.

Where did the exoplanet study begin?

In 1995, Nobel Laureate Didier Kelo discovered the first planet outside the solar system, with about 5,000 exoplanets known today, and scientists discover new planets every day.

Nearly half of them helped find the NASA Kepler Space Telescope, which was launched in 2009, its goal is to find out how Earth-like planets are common in the Milky Way galaxy. In 2018, the Observatory had a successor, the mission of TESS. This space telescope was designed to open an exoplanet in transit and was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of the NASA Minor Research Programme.

The discovery of the first real "alien Earth" is a long-standing dream of astronomers, and recent discoveries of an exoplanet have shown that there are many small rocky worlds like ours in the galaxy.

What is needed for life?

Astronomers believe that each of the more than 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy has at least one planet, and many of them, just like the Earth, are rocky and at the right distance from their host stars.

However, it is not known whether these planets have an atmosphere and what it is made of. This requires research into the atmosphere of these planets. Scientists have long waited for telescope technology to improve enough to study the composition of the planet's atmosphere and the activity of its parent star. With the launch of the James Webb telescope, this moment has arrived.

Would Webb help?

Recently, the James Webb Space Telescope team published the first direct image of an exoplanet orbiting a distant star: the massive gas giant HIP 65426b. It is 12 times larger than Jupiter and rotates at a distance of 100 astronomical units from its sun.

In fact, the James Webb space telescope was built not to study exoplanet, but to search for the oldest stars in the universe, but it has already made several breakthroughs in exoplanet research, including the discovery of carbon dioxide and water in the atmospheres of some of them.

The problem is that Webb, though the most powerful observatory ever launched into space, is not strong enough to see much smaller planets, like the Earth, that rotate at optimal distances from their stars.

The planet HIP 65426b, which the telescope found, is very special. It is giant and spinning very far from the star. However, the Webb is not strong enough to take pictures of small planets like the Earth.

Any hope?

However, scientists are already building new tools to fill this gap in the capabilities of the James Web Space Telescope, and Sasha Kwanz and his team of engineers are leading the development of the METIS spectrograph.

It is the first instrument of its kind to become part of an extremely large telescope. It is now being built in Chile, and the project will be completed by the end of this decade. The main instrument of ELT will be a 39.3 m segment mirror. It will consist of 798 hexagonal segments with a diameter of 1.4 metres each.

The main purpose of the instrument is to take the first picture of the Earth's planet, potentially Earthlike, around one of the closest stars, but scientists plan to use it for dozens of stars, as well as to explore the atmosphere of the Earth's exoplanet.

The ground telescope, such as ELT, will have to deal with interference with the Earth's atmosphere, which distorts the chemistry measurements of the exoplanet atmosphere, and since Webba has its limitations, looking for life in space will require a completely new mission, Sasha Kwanz told the press conference.

What mission are we talking about?

The new mission is already under discussion under the auspices of the European Space Agency. The project was launched in 2017, but it is still at an early stage of study and has not been formally approved and funded, at least so far.

The LIFE Space Telescope will study an enormous amount of exoplanet and look for traces of molecules in the atmospheres of distant worlds that may have arisen from life.

What's the outcome?

According to Kwanz, the new centre at ETH Zurich will lay the foundation for a future mission, improve our understanding of the chemistry of life and how it affects planetary atmospheres and the environment.

"We need to get a more detailed picture of possible building blocks of life, ways and time scales of chemical reactions and external conditions, which will help to identify priority stars and planets for exploration," the researcher explains.

This requires an understanding of the nature of life bioindicators. It is known that there are other processes that create gases in the exoplanet atmosphere. The project and the search for the first alien life will take 25 years, said a scientist, although he admitted that this is "ambitious." As real as it is, time will show.