What's next after finding so many exoplanets? NASA reveals


Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 01 August 2023, at 03:45 am PDT

Many believe that Earth is the perfect habitat for humans, and while it is true, this statement lacks a complete understanding. Everything comes to an end in our Universe, even our beautiful Earth, full of amazing animals, humans, seas and oceans, mountains, and hills, just a perfect atmosphere, and many more.

Therefore, we might explore alternative planets and achieve what we presently only imagine, which is to become a species that inhabits multiple planets. That won't be easy, especially because we have many unanswered questions and we are yet to experience such a long trip in the vast space.

So, before we are going to develop high-speed spacecraft and go beyond today's limits of mankind, let's first explore our beautiful Solar System, where we have many places where we can observe signs of life. From Mars to the ocean beneath the surface of the Europa moon, and even to Saturn's Enceladus.

"The best hope on Mars is the subsurface," said Mary Voytek, director of NASA's Astrobiology Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "How long will it take before we're able to drill into the subsurface? For Enceladus and Europa, we're talking about being in a subsurface ocean below kilometers of ice. How soon will it be before we actually get into those? It becomes more an issue of access and not of, I think, greater probability." 

"Think about all the exoplanets out there," she continues. "Suddenly we have this giant, vast possibility of things to search on." 

We have one of the best friends among us. the James Webb Space Telescope. This superpower time machine has already done things that changed our perception of the Universe. It brought us deep inside the ingredients of the exoplanets' atmospheres, thus providing a clear image of what we should expect to see from that world outside our Solar System.

"In the short term, of course, we're hoping [the Webb telescope] is able to make detection of biosignature gases in the atmospheres of a couple of terrestrial worlds," said Michael Way, a physical scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York who creates computer models of possible exoplanet atmospheres.

We are hoping to see future telescopes with instruments of about 100 to 130 feet (around 30 to 40 meters) wide.

"It's not clear to me that the instruments coming online in the early 2030s will be capable of that or not," Way said. "There are calculations that show it's possible."  

NASA is planning a new mission in the future, NASA's Habitable Worlds Observatory,  seeking to elevate our knowledge about exoplanets by exploring 25 potentially Earth-like planets and searching for signs of life. 

"We're going to tell the story of life in the cosmos by using that unprecedented imaging capability – to study the long-term evolution of galaxies, the stars they're made of, the matter that makes up those stars, and to help us understand how habitable worlds came to be," he said. "And we're going to search for signs of life on those habitable worlds."

A private-sector mission, called Breakthrough Starshot aims to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri in just 20 to 30 years using lasers to push a fleet of tiny "light sail" probes to a fraction of light speed says NASA.

However, exploring our galaxy with manned spacecraft remains a nice dream. It would take us even thousands of years to reach some habitable planets with today's and future-anticipated technologies. It's not impossible, but we need to develop a lot if we want to find a way out of the Solar System.

Until then, we are continuing to search for bio and techno signatures. Who knows? We may ask for help from aliens.

"Advanced civilizations, any civilizations using energy need to emit waste heat," said Ravi Kopparapu, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who focuses much of his work on the hunt for non-radio techno-signatures.

"We're all Earthlings," said astronomer Jill Tarter, one of the world's best-known seekers of intelligent life beyond Earth. "The cosmic perspective trivializes the differences among humans. So we need to become Earthlings, and act like that." 

NASA is in some way optimistic about getting somewhere out of the Solar System. The Earth will probably come to an end in about 5 billion years since our Sun will get even bigger and hotter than it is today, it will, more scientifically speaking, 'swell into a red-giant phase'.

"Assuming we don't exterminate ourselves in the meantime, we'll find a way to go somewhere else," Way said.

Be the first to read what's new in science!