Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Search For ET Just Got Easier: Effective Way To Search Atmospheres Of Planets For Signs Of Life

Date:
June 12, 2009
Source:
Science and Technology Facilities Council
Summary:
Astronomers have confirmed an effective way to search the atmospheres of planets for signs of life, vastly improving our chances of finding alien life outside our solar system.

An artist's concept of the sunlight glowing through the Earth's thin atmosphere and reaching an observer on the Moon during a lunar eclipse.
Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz, SMM, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC)

Astronomers using the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) William Herschel Telescope (WHT) on La Palma have confirmed an effective way to search the atmospheres of planets for signs of life, vastly improving our chances of finding alien life outside our solar system.

Related Articles


The team from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) used the WHT and the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) to gather information about the chemical composition of the Earth's atmosphere from sunlight that has passed through it. The research is published June11 in Nature.

When a planet passes in front of its parent star, part of the starlight passes through the planet's atmosphere and contains information about the constituents of the atmosphere, providing vital information about the planet itself. This is called a transmission spectrum and even though astronomers can't use exactly the same method to look at the Earth's atmosphere, they were able to gain a spectrum of our planet by observing light reflected from the Moon towards the Earth during a lunar eclipse. This is the first time the transmission spectrum of the Earth has been measured.

The spectrum not only contained signs of life but these signs were unmistakably strong. It also contained unexpected molecular bands and the signature of the earth ionosphere.

Enric Palle, lead author of the paper, from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, said, "Now we know what the transmission spectrum of a inhabited planet looks like, we have a much better idea of how to find and recognize Earth like planets outside our solar system where life may be thriving. The information in this spectrum shows us that this is a very effective way to gather information about the biological processes that may be taking place on a planet."

Pilar Montañes-Rodriguez, from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, added, "Many discoveries of Earth-size planets are expected in the next decades and some will orbit in the habitable zone of their parent stars. Obtaining their atmospheric properties will be highly challenging; the greatest reward will happen when one of those planets shows a spectrum like that of our Earth."

The past two decades have witnessed the discovery of hundreds of exoplanets (planets beyond our solar system). Ambitious missions, ground and space based, are already being planned for the next decades, and the discovery of Earth-like planets is only a matter of time. Once these planets are found, techniques like transmission spectra will be invaluable to their further exploration.

Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said, "This new transmission spectrum is good news for future upcoming ground and space based missions dedicated to the search for life in the Universe. The UK is committed to cutting edge science and UK owned facilities like the WHT are helping to make many groundbreaking discoveries and expand our knowledge of the Universe. Not only do these results improve our knowledge of our own planet but we now have an effective way to search for life on the increasing number of exoplanets being found by astronomers."

The results on the WHT were achieved using LIRIS, a very efficient near-IR imager/spectrograph built and developed at IAC. LIRIS became a common-user instrument at the WHT as a result of the agreement signed by IAC to become a partner at ING in 2003.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Science and Technology Facilities Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Enric Pallé, María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, Rafael Barrena, Pilar Montañés-Rodríguez & Eduardo L. Martín. Earth's transmission spectrum from lunar eclipse observations. Nature, 2009; 459 (7248): 814 DOI: 10.1038/nature08050

Cite This Page:

Science and Technology Facilities Council. "Search For ET Just Got Easier: Effective Way To Search Atmospheres Of Planets For Signs Of Life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090610133557.htm>.
Science and Technology Facilities Council. (2009, June 12). Search For ET Just Got Easier: Effective Way To Search Atmospheres Of Planets For Signs Of Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090610133557.htm
Science and Technology Facilities Council. "Search For ET Just Got Easier: Effective Way To Search Atmospheres Of Planets For Signs Of Life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090610133557.htm (accessed February 1, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Video Shows Stars If They Were as Close to Earth as Sun

Video Shows Stars If They Were as Close to Earth as Sun

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) — Russia&apos;s space agency created a video that shows what our sky would look like with different star if they were as close as our sun. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) walks us through the cool video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) — Retired astronaut and television host, Leland Melvin, snuck his dogs into the NASA studio so they could be in his official photo. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us, the secret is out. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) — NASA is remembering 17 astronauts who were killed in the line of duty and dozens more who have died since the agency&apos;s beginning. A remembrance ceremony was held Thursday at NASA&apos;s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Rumble (Jan. 27, 2015) — Scientists working with NASA&apos;s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California discovered an unexpected moon while observing asteroid 2004 BL86 during its recent flyby past Earth. Credit to &apos;NASA JPL&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins