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Hunt for exoplanet ETs poses new challenge

Posted on Friday, 2 May, 2014 | Comment icon 27 comments

Finding life on an alien world is going to be a challenge. Image Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
Finding signs of extraterrestrial life on an extrasolar planet is going to be a lot harder than expected.
As astronomers continue to identify new extrasolar planets in orbit around distant stars, the question on everybody's lips is whether or not any of these distant worlds could be home to extraterrestrial life.

Despite recently finding a rocky Earth-sized world in the habitable zone of another solar system, astronomers are still unable to determine whether this planet or any other in the distant reaches of space could support life. Larger, more powerful telescopes in the future could potentially accomplish this, but there are still other obstacles to overcome.

The current method for identifying whether or not a planet is habitable involves looking for bio-signatures in its atmosphere such as methane and oxygen, chemicals that are usually associated with life. The problem however is that these chemicals can also exist on barren worlds with no life on them at all, leading to the possibility of false positives.

"There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that we will find hints of extraterrestrial life within the next few decades, just maybe not on an Earth-like planet around a Sun-like star," said study lead author Hanno Rein.

Source: IB Times | Comments (27)

Tags: Alien, Extraterrestrial, Extrasolar Planet

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #18 Posted by Lilly on 5 May, 2014, 14:48
If in the future if we send probes to large numbers of other planets and no sign of life is ever found, then the probability of life elsewhere would be considered as being quite remote. However, we have not done this as of yet. The only other planet we've managed to 'scope out' is Mars. A sample of "one" tells us nothing.
Comment icon #19 Posted by taniwha on 6 May, 2014, 11:20
Scientific progress will never be able to prove that we ARE alone in the universe I will guarantee you that for free. Thats why the scientific drive is being funded to find it, unless they are spending all that money on mars trying to prove life doesnt exist? Does it seem logical to try and detect UNLIFE before sending humans? Yes. The moon was found to be lifeless before we landed. The trend will continue until life is found then a high authority will be enforced on Earth. A rule to rule all others. But thats the future so when you eliminate the impossible whatever is left is certainly poss... [More]
Comment icon #20 Posted by Frank Merton on 6 May, 2014, 12:33
I think the search for life on Mars is secondary and not really expected to find anything but worth it just in case. The real reason for all the study of Mars is to understand planets better, including our own. We may never find ET out there, which would probably be a loss to us in overcoming our species chauvinism and in learning who knows what. If we do it will be a shock, especially to religions based on the idea that man is the center of God's plan. It won't help other religions much either (I don't expect to see them in saffron robes any more than Praising Allah).
Comment icon #21 Posted by GreenmansGod on 9 May, 2014, 18:38
You seem to have a issue with spending money on pure science. What do you think pure science is taking money away from? Bombs and tanks is the most logical thing that would come to my mind. Obviously it is not going to go for education. I want to know, I don't like guessing. Guessing usually gets me in trouble. My best guess is there is lots of life, but it is still only a guess. Sitting on this rock, fighting over little pieces paper isn't much of a life in the end. It is not something intelligent life does.
Comment icon #22 Posted by taniwha on 10 May, 2014, 0:56
Yes good point i wonder if the answer to if we are alone or not really matters. What good would it do if we were confirmed to be alone or not anyway. On a self extinction catergory We are war faring species. Our lives are short. I cant see how a measure of life in outer space will change this at all. We might stumble across life and it starts communications what are we to say and do? well thats a guess too. One day unfolds into the next even though we cant see one billionth of a second into the future. Heres some neat science fiction [More]
Comment icon #23 Posted by E. L. Wisty on 12 May, 2014, 19:07
I don't really see why this is a problem. If there's oxygen in a planet's atmosphere and methane in its moon's atmosphere, then there will be a period at extremely regular intervals when the methane signature vanishes as the moon passes behind the planet. Obviously, no scientist worthy of his job deion would say that a result this important had been conclusively proven until it had been checked many, many times. The basic method of detecting exoplanets already involves spotting the very slight periodic dimming of a star as planets pass in front of it; all you need to do is appl... [More]
Comment icon #24 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 12 May, 2014, 23:06
There are two problems with your idea. The first is that you would have to observe one exoplanet almost permanently for long periods of time in order to detect the regular drop in the methane signature. With over 1700 exoplanets already discovered and new satellites and ground-based telescopes under construction that will increase that figure many fold there simply is not the instrument time to spend on a single planets in this way. The second problem is that you assume that the Earth, the exoplanet and the exomoon will be perfectly aligned so that the moon will always pass behind the planet... [More]
Comment icon #25 Posted by bison on 13 May, 2014, 14:43
The idea of an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its star, with a moon large enough to retain a substantial atmosphere seems unlikely. The problem of this sort of 'false positive' indication of life may be very rare.
Comment icon #26 Posted by JesseCuster on 15 May, 2014, 10:57
But if planets with life are even less common, then the method could throw up more false positives than findings of actual life, which would render it not much use as a means of detecting extraterrestrial life.
Comment icon #27 Posted by bison on 15 May, 2014, 21:18
We don't know how rare life bearing planets will be. I'm told that strong spectroscopic signatures of oxygen alone would be considered good evidence for life. Stable, non-biogenic oxygen on a planet would apparently be much less prominent than that created, and renewed by life. It should eventually be possible to distinguish between these two cases, in exoplanets.

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