US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The next generation of powerful ground-based and space-based telescopes will be able to prey on distant solar systems to prove life on Earth-like exoplanets – especially those found on burnt stars known as white dwarfs.
The chemical properties of these distant worlds may indicate the existence of life there. To help future scientists figure out what telescopes are showing them, Cornell University astronomers have developed a spectral field reference for these rocky worlds.
“We will show what spectral“ fingerprints ”can be and what future space and large ground-based telescopes can pay attention to,” said Thea Kozakis, a doctoral student in astronomy who conducts her research at the Karl Sagan Cornell Institute. Kozakis is the lead author of the article “High Resolution Spectra and Biosignals of Earth-Type Planets Passing Through White Dwarfs,” published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
In just a few years, astronomers using tools such as the extremely large telescope, which is currently being built in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, and the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2021, will be able to seek life on exoplanets.
“The rocky planets around white dwarfs are intriguing candidates for research because their hosts are not much larger than our planet,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy at the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Karl Sagan Institute.
The trick is to catch the exoplanet’s fast intersection of the white dwarf, a small dense star that has exhausted its energy.
“We hope and are looking for this kind of transit,” said Kozakis. “If we trace the passage of such a planet, scientists will be able to find out what is in its atmosphere, return to this article, compare it with spectral fingerprints and look for signs of life. The publication of this kind of guide allows observers to know what to look for.”
Kozakis, Kaltenegger and Zifan Lin have assembled spectral models for different atmospheres at different temperatures to create patterns for possible biosignals.
Chasing these planets in the habitable zone of white dwarf systems is a challenge, the researchers said.
“We wanted to know if the light from a white dwarf – a long-dead star – could allow us to discover life in the atmosphere of the planet, if it is there,” said Kaltenegger.
This article indicates that astronomers should be able to see spectral biosignals – such as methane in combination with ozone or nitrous oxide – “if these signs of life are present,” said Kaltenegger. She also added that this study expands the scientific databases for the search for spectral signs of life on exoplanets to forgotten stellar systems.
“If we had found signs of life on planets revolving under the light of long-dead stars,” she said, “the next intriguing question would have been whether the star’s death had survived the life or if it all began anew — rebirth, if you like.”
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