Photos
Article

BY RAY VILLARD, Discovery News

 

NASA is preparing the TESS observatory (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) to follow-up on the successes of the planet-hunting Kepler observatory by identifying nearby exoplanets that pass in front of, or “transit,” their stars. A small sample of these worlds will be singled out for further scrutiny if they lie within the habitable zone of the parent star. The habitable zone is the distance from a star where temperatures on a world may allow liquid water to exist on the planetary surface.

 

Kepler showed us an incredible diversity among planetary systems, and that small planets like Earth greatly outnumber bloated Jupiter-class worlds. But the Kepler planets are typically over 1,000 light-years away, so understanding the environments of these worlds is technologically out of the question — at least for the foreseeable future.

 

It is a reasonable prediction that the first transiting candidate planet to look for the chemical signature of life will be a world orbiting a nearby red dwarf star. There are about 90 red dwarfs within just 20 light-years of Earth, but only seven sun-like stars.

 

A transiting planet will allow for measuring the fraction of starlight passing through its atmosphere as well as recording the difference in light from the system when the planet passes behind its star.

 

TESS’ survey should at least find a few nearby transiting worlds within reach of doing a chemical inventory with NASA’s planned James Webb Space Telescope. At the very least, Webb would have a shot at providing evidence for an ocean on a planet.  This would further narrow down the candidates for more detailed studies.

 

Kepler’s survey found a number of super-Earths, planets several times Earth’s mass, and therefore too small to be gassy so-called ice giants like Uranus and Neptune. But what might the spectral fingerprint of a nearby super-Earth look like? And could we unequivocally deduce the planet is inhabited to everyone’s satisfaction?

 

To continue reading, visit: http://news.discovery.com/space/alien-life-exoplanets/can-lifes-fingerprint-be-found-on-super-earths-13052.htm

Comments
Order by: 
Per page: 
 
  • There are no comments yet
The Social Network Buzz - Comment using your Facebook, AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo! account
Info
Administrator
The Black Vault Owner/Operator
05.24.2013 (328 days ago)
Main Space
502 Views
0 Subscribers
All News by Administrator
Share This Article
Rate
3 votes
Related News
Pivoting planets that lean one way and then change orientation within a short geological time period might be surprisingly habitable
Main Space
14 hours ago · From Administrator
Life took root more than four billion years ago on our nascent Earth, a wetter and harsher place than now, bathed in sizzling ultraviolet rays.
Main Space
24 hours ago · From Administrator
Wonder what the lunar eclipse of 4/15/2014 would have looked like if you were standing on the surface of the moon?
Main Space
Yesterday · From Administrator
The United States was in a prime orbital position and time of day to view the eclipse on April 15, 2014.
Main Space
2 days ago · From Administrator
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon
Main Space
2 days ago · From Administrator
Can Life's Fingerprint Be Found On Super-Earths?