James Webb telescope will be able to detect other civilizations by polluting the atmospheres of exoplanets

(ORDO NEWS) — The James Webb Space Telescope, launched into space last December, is gradually turning on and adjusting its instruments, has already deployed its solar screen, and is currently aligning its mirrors in preparation for science operations.

Over the next few months, the world’s most powerful space observatory is preparing to turn its gaze to the stars. Astronomers hope that Webb will change the way we think about studying the universe, just as the Hubble telescope did decades ago.

One of the most enticing differences between the James Webb Observatory and Hubble is that the new telescope is capable of taking direct images of planets orbiting distant stars, and possibly also detecting traces of the presence of life.

In a new study, a team of astronomers explored the possibility of using the James Webb Observatory to search for traces of intelligent life left behind in the form of industrial pollution in an exoplanet’s atmosphere.

The work focuses on the detection of chlorofluorocarbons, which are produced on an industrial scale on Earth and are widely used as refrigerants and components of detergents.

CFCs gained notoriety for causing a large hole in the Earth’s ozone layer in the 1980s, before being banned internationally in 1987, restoring the ozone layer to less dangerous levels.

These atmospheric pollutants are characteristic of an industrial civilization and can be detected using Webb, the authors of the work note. But there are a number of limitations on detection – for example, the light of too bright stars can “dazzle” the telescope and make observations of chlorofluorocarbons impossible.

Therefore, the search for intelligent civilizations by this method is possible only on planets orbiting dim stars, such as dwarfs of the spectral type M – for example, in the nearby TRAPPIST-1 system, which lies at a distance of about 40 light years from us.

At the same time, unfortunately, dwarfs of the spectral class M demonstrate at a “young age” a tendency to intense flares that can wipe out all life from the face of the planet, the authors of the work noted.


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