“Can we imagine life outside the solar system?” This question posed by so many scientists could be answered within twenty-five years, according to Sasha Quanz, an astrophysicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
During a press conference on September 2, taken from an article by Space.com, this Swiss researcher detailed the future missions that the European Space Agency intends to implement to determine the presence or absence of life outside the solar system. While the 25-year deadline may seem ambitious, it isn’t “idealistic”assures Quanz.
If we want an exoplanet to be habitable, it must be close to a star: this makes life conditions possible. Therefore, the first phase of this mission would consist of a phase “observation”, Quanz explains, “Where we would take pictures of these different exoplanets”, to know their position with respect to the stars and to be able to compare them with the Earth.
For this reason Quanz and his team are currently working on the development of the new infrared camera and spectrograph that will be added to the gigantic European telescope, whose commissioning is scheduled between 2024 and 2027. “His initial goal will be to photograph the first Earth-like planet, he describes. In the long run, we hope to photograph several stars and study the atmospheres of dozens of exoplanets.
A mission without James-Webb
But this new instrument should have some limitations, Quanz admits: A ground-based telescope can encounter interference from the Earth’s atmosphere, which distorts data from distant planets. This would run the risk of not being “The first tool to detect signs of probable life on a planet outside the solar system”.
Furthermore, Quanz and his team cannot count on the support of the James-Webb Space Telescope to carry out this mission. Although he had accomplished exceptional feats – such as the discovery of carbon dioxide on an exoplanet – James-Webb would not have been powerful enough to observe small Earth-like planets, nor able to orbit near them, their stars at distances where the liquid water would likely be, Quanz points out.
A completely new mission is therefore required to achieve this goal. According to Quanz, this is already being discussed at the European Space Agency. Named “LIFE” (for “Large Interferometer For Exoplanets”), the mission is currently in its initial phase of study and has not yet been officially approved or funded.