(ORDO NEWS) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is gearing up for scientific operations starting this summer. And scientists are excited about the prospect of exploring distant worlds for traces of extraterrestrial life.
But where should you start? Researchers have already confirmed the existence of almost 5,000 extrasolar planets, and the number of reliable exoplanet candidates is even higher.
“James Webb” and a Specific Purpose
Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says Kepler-442b is “a great planet for the [NASA James Webb] telescope to look at.”
Hadfield, according to his Twitter post , is starting from the fact that some experts believe that the exoplanet Kepler-442b, which, by the way, is about 1200 light-years from Earth, may be even more habitable than our own planet.
In a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal in 2015, a team of astrobiologists argue that several exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions, including Kepler-442b, are very likely to have liquid water on their surfaces, as and Earth.
“We ranked the known planets [discovered by the Kepler and K2 missions] for habitability and found that some of them have higher H values [a measure of planetary habitability] than Earth ,” the article says.
The main goal of this ranking was to reduce the number of exoplanet candidates so that in the future it would be possible to immediately start observing the most interesting, promising worlds.
“Basically, we took all the available observational data and developed a prioritization scheme so that when we get closer to the time when there are hundreds of targets available, we could say: OK, this is where we want to start,” said in 2015 study lead author Rory Barnes, an astronomer at the University of Washington.
The James Webb Telescope will use a variety of observational techniques to closely study the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting distant stars.
Some scientists believe that the telescope is sensitive enough to detect hypothetical atmospheric pollution from any alien civilizations lurking there.
A team of engineers is currently calibrating segments of the James Webb primary mirror to take advantage of the opportunity to study potentially habitable planets outside the solar system.
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