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A new way to detect oxygen in exoplanet atmospheres

17 Jan 2020, 12:15 UTC
A new way to detect oxygen in exoplanet atmospheres
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About 21% of Earth’s atmosphere is composed of oxygen. On our planet, oxygen is produced by living organisms including plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. If we could detect oxygen in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, it might be a clue that something lived there. Image via Shutterstock/ The Conversation.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is currently scheduled for launch in early 2021. It’ll be Hubble’s successor and a powerful new tool in the search for and study of exoplanets – worlds orbiting other stars – in particular ones that might be able to support life. Researchers now say they’ve developed a new technique that could help scientists use the Webb telescope to detect a possible key signature of alien life – oxygen, in the atmosphere of a distance world – with greater efficiency than first anticipated.
The researchers, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, announced that the Webb telescope will be able to identify a unique signal produced when oxygen molecules collide. If that signal were to be found in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, that would be a strong indication that oxygen, and perhaps life, is present on the planet’s surface.
The promising peer-reviewed findings were published in the journal ...

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