Tag: James Webb Space Telescope

A New Frontier in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Article by Adam Frank                                       December 31, 2020                                        (washingtonpost.com)

• On December 18th, ‘Breakthrough Listen’ – a privately funded offshoot of SETI, the ‘Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence’ – detected a distant “candidate signal” labeled BLC-1, which SETI astronomers would like to think is coming from another intelligent civilization in the galaxy. Of course, these scientists are quick to point out that it is probably not coming from another civilization, but just radio interference from our own planet.

• The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence began more than 60 years ago. Proponents of SETI have long complained that there has never been sufficient funding or telescope time available to make a dent in the effort. In the 1980s and 1990s, Congressional legislators withheld “wasteful” SETI funding, and it has survived since on private funding from millionaires like Yuri Milner who in 2015 pledged $100 million to create Breakthrough Listen.

• Jason Wright and his astronomy colleagues at Penn State have argued that the reason we have not found life elsewhere in the universe is simple: We haven’t really looked. If the galaxy were an ocean, so far astronomers have splashed around in just one hot-tub’s worth of water.

• With Milner’s funding, the Breakthrough Listen project was provided access to telescopes from the Parkes radio dish in Australia and the Green Bank instrument in West Virginia, and resources to explore new search methods and technologies. These include machine-learning initiatives designed to accelerate “classic” SETI research. Artificial intelligence can enable computers to identify those all-important ‘weirdness needles’ in the cosmic signal haystack of data. The next generation of instruments, including the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, should enable SETI astronomers to explore the atmospheres of smaller, Earthlike planets and search for the chemical imprint of an exo-biosphere.

• Meanwhile, the ‘exoplanet revolution’ opened a second frontier in the search for ET. In the mid-1990s, astronomers found the first exoplanet, a Jupiter-size world on a four-day orbit around the star 51 Pegasi. Today, we know that almost every star in the sky hosts a family of worlds. Scientists worldwide are building a census of alien planets, showing which stars have planets and which planets are in the star’s “Goldilocks zone,” where surface temperatures are just right (that is, anywhere between freezing and boiling) for life to form. As a result, astronomers can find out exactly where they should be looking for life and intelligence.

• Astronomers are also gaining the capacity to probe the atmospheres of distant planets for ‘biosignatures’. By interrogating light passing through a far-flung world’s gaseous veil, astronomers can compile its chemical inventory and see what’s in the planet’s atmosphere. Alien astronomers looking at Earth, for example, would see oxygen and methane in our atmosphere — a signature of life’s presence on our planet. Scientists have already explored the atmospheres of a few Jupiter-size exoplanets.

• But why stop at biosignatures? The presence of technology on a planet might be far more detectable than biology. Telescopes on the drawing boards right now might have the capacity to see city lights on distant worlds. In 2019, NASA awarded the first-ever research grant to study atmospheric technosignatures, with two more funded in 2020. All this means that the search for technosignatures is becoming just as plausible and just as important as the search for biosignatures, representing a thrilling new face of SETI, embracing both anomaly-based searches and targeted explorations of exoplanets and their environments.

• The truth about the search for intelligent exo-civilizations is that it’s probably going to take a lot of time and effort. That’s the price you pay for great science. This extraordinary journey — taking us to the shores of alien worlds — is really only just getting started. Something remarkable is happening in the science of life and intelligence beyond Earth. The age of “technosignatures” is dawning.

[Editor’s Note]  The boys at SETI are dedicated… dedicated, that is, to making sure that the average person remains woefully ignorant of the multitude of intelligent beings and civilizations that permeate our galaxy and universe. Seth Shostak and his accomplices at SETI are simply shills for the deep state. The deep state controls several secret space programs that interact constantly with mostly negative extraterrestrial beings, and have access to their advanced technologies which the deep state wants to maintain for themselves only, in order to preserve their advantage.

But it appears that 2021 will usher in a new level of disclosure of this underlying deep state cabal that has repressed the natural technological and spiritual development of the human species on this Earth since World War II, when the presence of extraterrestrial beings, both benevolent and malevolent, greatly increased in response to our species’ own technological achievements. Suddenly, Earth humans were a more interesting species to scrutinize, and more valuable to exploit. By using human (?) deep state operatives to infiltrate all aspects of government and society, these negative beings orchestrated a false reality which has supported their control agenda for the past seventy years.

We have a unique opportunity now to expose this deep state cabal and the negative extraterrestrial entities that have given this cabal its capacity to control the planet. The time has come to reclaim the planet for our own species, as the benevolent beings and our human cousins of the Galactic Federation have urged us to do. They won’t step in and do it for us. We must save ourselves. It appears that President Trump has declared war on the deep state, and this much anticipated transition has begun.

We are living in the most fantastic period in human history. It is just a shame that more people have not yet awakened to recognize the battle between good and evil that is now unfolding. Once we have overcome our deep state oppressors, the human species will enter a golden age of higher spiritual consciousness and advanced technologies (available to everyone) that will transform our planet as we assume our rightful place among the multitude of space-faring civilizations which deep state operatives, such as SETI and the Washington Post, are desperately trying to prevent.

 

On Dec. 18, the world learned that Breakthrough Listen, a privately funded search for extraterrestrial

                        Jason Wright

intelligence, had found its first official candidate signal. The signal’s existence lit up the Internet. Was BLC-1, as it’s called, finally our moment of contact? Breakthrough Listen scientists, now hard at work on a paper about their findings, were quick to explain that the answer was probably “no”: Given the wealth of human-made radio signal interference out there, BLC-1 will probably turn out to be of human origin.

Their preliminary conclusion, however, does not defuse the excitement of BLC-1. The fact that there’s a candidate at all is cause for celebration. That’s because something remarkable is happening in the science of life and intelligence beyond Earth. The age of “technosignatures” is dawning.

                             Yuri Milner

Many people have the romantic notion that astronomers huddle over their telescopes every night and scan the skies looking for signals from distant, alien civilizations. That, unfortunately, just ain’t happening. Though the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) began more than 60 years ago, there was never sufficient funding or telescope time available to make a dent in the effort. In the 1980s and 1990s, some in Congress cited public SETI funding (as little as it was) as a press-worthy example of wasteful spending. Government support mostly dried up, leaving the field running on fumes. As Jason Wright and colleagues at Penn State have demonstrated, if the sky is an ocean that needs to be searched for life, so far astronomers have splashed around in just one hot-tub’s worth of water. The reason we have not found life elsewhere in the universe is simple: We haven’t really looked.

Now, however, the long desert of opportunity may finally be giving way to a new era of growth. In 2015, Internet billionaire Yuri Milner pledged $100 million to create Breakthrough Listen, a next-generation radio-based search for extraterrestrial intelligence. With a single stroke, Milner helped rejuvenate the field: The project provided access to telescopes from the Parkes radio dish in Australia and the Green Bank instrument in West Virginia, and provided resources to explore new search methods and technologies. These include machine-learning initiatives designed to accelerate “classic” SETI research of the kind epitomized by BLC-1. As pioneered by Frank Drake and others (and popularized by the 1997 movie “Contact”), classic SETI searches for signals that are anomalous, as opposed to those originating from natural or human causes. Historically, the challenge has been that SETI observations produce tidal waves of data. But artificial intelligence can enable computers to identify those all-important weirdness needles in the cosmic signal haystack of all that data.

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Hunting Earthlike Exoplanets

Article by Rick Robinson                                  October 19, 2020                                     (now.northropgrumman.com)

• The search for life on earth-like exoplanets far beyond Earth continues. In the search for extraterrestrial life, water is the Holy Grail, according to Northrop Grumman’s Robert Lockwood, project manager for NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission. Liquid water is so friendly to complex organic chemistry that it’s regarded as the most likely environment for life elsewhere in the universe.

• We know that Mars once had seas and rivers, and liquid water still occasionally flows on its surface. Jupiter’s moon Europa has a smooth, icy surface, beneath which lurks a hidden ocean deeper than any on Earth, scientists believe.

• Currently, TESS’s mission is examining candidate stars within about 300 light-years of Earth — close enough to allow for future follow-up examination of the exoplanets that TESS discovers. What is TESS looking for? In a nutshell, they are looking for “Goldilocks” conditions where planets are roughly earth-sized, big enough to hold an atmosphere, but not so big as to be mostly gas or liquid, like Jupiter or Neptune. Moreover, the planet must orbit within its parent star’s habitable zone, hot enough that oceans don’t freeze, but not so hot that they boil away.

• Lockwood notes that even the most powerful instruments don’t allow astronomers to actually see exoplanets. Instead, astronomers must currently suss out planets by observing indirect effects, like the planet’s bulk blocking part of its parent star, slightly dimming the star’s light — the technique used by the TESS mission.

• This will change next year, when NASA‘s James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch into orbit. The JWST will be able to take spectroscopic images (separating light into its individual wavelengths, or spectrum) of the light from the star as it interacts with the planet’s atmosphere. The wavelengths of light will allow astronomers to search for telltale signs of water vapor in a planetary atmosphere. JWST observations will mark a giant step forward in the search for habitable planets beyond Earth.

• The University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo has identified 55 leading exoplanet candidates. One is substantially smaller than Earth, while 20 others are moreo earth-sized. The remaining 34 are classed as “super-Earths” and “mini-Neptunes.”

ScienceAlert reported the recent discovery of two prime candidates orbiting a dim red dwarf star called Teegarden’s Star. They orbit their parent star every few days, much more frequently than Mercury orbits our Sun (once about every 80 days), but the star is so faint that both planets are still within its habitable zone. And Teegarden’s Star is a mere 12.2 light-years away. If we learn to build space probes capable of approaching the speed of light, a mission to this pair of worlds would take about the same amount of time as other interplanetary NASA missions have taken.

 

The search for life beyond Earth continues within our solar system; the search also extends far beyond the solar system, where we aim to discover earthlike exoplanets.

Water, Water Anywhere

Water is the holy grail in the search for extraterrestrial life, says Northrop Grumman’s Robert Lockwood, project manager for NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission. Liquid water is essential for terrestrial life; it’s so friendly to complex organic chemistry that it’s regarded as the most likely environment for life elsewhere in the universe.

Within the solar system, we know that Mars once had seas and rivers, and liquid water still occasionally flows on its surface. Meanwhile, Jupiter’s moon Europa has a smooth, icy surface, beneath which, scientists believe, lurks a hidden ocean deeper than any on Earth.

Oceans Beyond the Sun

The search for potential life beyond the solar system is in some ways simpler, but it’s incredibly demanding due to the enormous distances involved. Currently, TESS’s mission is examining candidate stars within about 300 light-years of Earth — close enough to allow for future follow-up examination of the exoplanets that TESS discovers.

What are TESS and other extrasolar survey observations — both space-based and ground-based — looking for? In a nutshell, said EarthSky, they are looking for “Goldilocks” conditions, just right. That means planets that are roughly earth-sized, big enough to hold an atmosphere, but not so big as to be mostly gas or liquid, like Jupiter or even Neptune.

Moreover, the planet must orbit in its parent star’s habitable zone, hot enough that any oceans don’t freeze solid, but not sThe search for life beyond Earth continues within our solar system; the search also extends far beyond the solar system, where we aim to discover earthlike exoplanets.

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Scientists Use Moon as Mirror to Detect Extraterrestrial Life

Article by Claire Bugos                             August 10, 2020                            (smithsonianmag.com)

• In January 2019, there was a total lunar eclipse. During a two-day period, light from the Sun passed through the Earth’s atmosphere and hit the Moon, and was reflected back toward the Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope was able to intercept and gather data from this ultraviolet light. Though similar ground-based studies have been done before, this is the first time that scientists have used a space telescope to capture ultraviolet wavelengths. From this data, scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency are able to analyze the Earth’s own atmospheric spectrum. They reported their findings in an article published August 6 in The Astronomical Journal. (see 3-minute NASA video below)

• The main focus was on the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation. During the eclipse, Hubble detected lower amounts of UV radiation from the light reflected off the Moon than is present from unfiltered sunlight. Therefore, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbed some of it. If they can simulate this with a distant exoplanet, they can determine whether that planet’s atmosphere contains ozone. And along with oxygen, the detection of an ozone layer is considered an indication of possible life on that planet.

• Using this unique method, scientists can simulate observations of exoplanets. When an exoplanet crosses in front of its star, the star light is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, creating a “halo” effect. Chemicals in the atmosphere filter out certain colors of starlight. Therefore, scientists can determine that planet’s atmospheric composition.

• “But how would we know a habitable or an uninhabited planet if we saw one?” queries Allison Youngblood of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and lead researcher of Hubble’s observations. By developing a model of the Earth’s chemical spectrum, scientists can use this as a template for categorizing the atmospheres of exoplanets in other solar systems.

• The age of the planet is also be taken into account when determining its ability to host life. Earth had low concentrations of oxygen for more than a billion years, while organisms used photosynthesis to build the ozone layer. So it may be challenging to detect ozone in younger planets. Still, ultraviolet may be “the best wavelength to detect photosynthetic life on low-oxygen exoplanets,” says Giada Arney of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a co-author of the study.

• The Hubble telescope was launched in 1990, even before astronomers first discovered exoplanets. While its ability to observe extraterrestrial atmospheres is “remarkable,” NASA says future observations of Earth-sized planets will require much larger telescopes and longer observational periods, which the James Webb Space telescope, scheduled to launch in 2021, will provide.

 

In the quest to discover life beyond Earth, scientists are harnessing a very large and proximate tool—the moon.

     Allison Youngblood

During a total lunar eclipse in January 2019, the moon acted like a giant mirror, reflecting sunlight that had passed

                   Hubble Telescope

through our atmosphere back toward Earth, reports Chelsea Gohd for Space.com. The Hubble Space Telescope, which was positioned between the Earth and moon, intercepted the reflected ultraviolet light for scientists to analyze.

Scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency studied the reflected light from a lunar eclipse during a two-day window. They reported their findings in an article published August 6 in The Astronomical Journal.

For the first time, scientists used a space telescope to capture ultraviolet wavelengths. Though similar ground-based studies have been done before, using a space telescope for this observation allows scientists to simulate future observations of exoplanets, Space.com reports.

            Giada Arney

The goal was for the telescope to detect the Earth’s ozone layer. The ozone molecule that makes up the Earth’s protective layer absorbs ultraviolet radiation. During the eclipse, Hubble detected lower amounts of UV radiation from the light reflected off the moon than is present from unfiltered sunlight, meaning the Earth’s atmosphere must have absorbed some of it, according to a NASA press release.

If scientists are able to detect an ozone layer or oxygen on a neighboring exoplanet, there’s a possibility that the planet may harbor life. On Earth, oxygen is often produced by life forms, especially those that photosynthesize. If scientists detect an oxygen-rich atmosphere on an exoplanet, especially if the amount of oxygen varies seasonally, there is a chance that it also hosts life. But scientists would need to further analyze the atmosphere using other tools before determining if it’s life-hosting, Allison Youngblood of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and lead researcher of Hubble’s observations, says in the press release.

3-minute video “Hubble Views Moon to Study Earth” (‘NASA Goddard’ YouTube)

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