Defining Life II: Metabolism and Evolution as clues to Extraterrestrial Life

The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, may be the first to be capable of detecting biomarker gases in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. When an exoplanet passes between its star and Earth, an event called a transit, light that has passed through the planet's atmosphere can be detected from a vantage point near Earth. When light passes through the exoplanet's atmosphere, some wavelengths are absorbed and others transmitted. By analyzing the transmitted light spectrum, astronomers can learn the composition of the planet's atmosphere.  Astrobiologists hope to find biomarker gases indicating the metabolic waste products of life. The oxygen in Earth's atmosphere is a waste product of photosynthesis in plants and bacteria. The Webb telescope may be capable of conducting this test for planets larger than Earth (super-earths) transiting small stars. Space telescopes capable of conducting such research on a larger scale have been delayed by budget cuts. Credit: NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018 may be the first to be capable of detecting biomarker gases in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. When an exoplanet passes between its star and Earth, an event called a transit, light that has passed through the planet’s atmosphere can be detected from a vantage point near Earth. When light passes through the exoplanet’s atmosphere, some wavelengths are absorbed and others transmitted. By analyzing the transmitted light spectrum, astronomers can learn the composition of the planet’s atmosphere. Astrobiologists hope to find biomarker gases indicating the metabolic waste products of life. The oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is a waste product of photosynthesis in plants and bacteria. The Webb telescope may be capable of conducting this test for planets larger than Earth (super-earths) transiting small stars. Space telescopes capable of conducting such research on a larger scale have been delayed by budget cuts.
Credit: NASA

In the movie “Avatar”, we could tell at a glance that the alien moon Pandora was teeming with alien life. Here on Earth though, the most abundant life is not the plants and animals that we are familiar with. The most abundant life is simple and microscopic. There —> Read More Here

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