Ross: Alien life could be out there, which would be way out there
Jun 22, 2023, 8:05 AM | Updated: 9:28 am
(Photo by Chris Gorman/Getty Images)
I was at my 50th college reunion last week, and my favorite part — after the nightly ice cream socials and the wine tastings — was attending the lectures like the one given by Lisa Kaltenegger, director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute.
She is searching for life on exoplanets, and she says the Webb Space Telescope changes everything.
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“With every new better instrument, we find something that we didn’t even know existed before, and we find new questions, and that, to me, is what makes science so interesting,” Kaltenegger said.
She is now lobbying to get the Webb Telescope to focus on an exoplanet called LP809-9C. Her team identified that planet last year as one of two super-Earths orbiting a red dwarf star 100 light years away. It orbits that star once every eight and a half days, but the crucial thing is that it appears to have the conditions for liquid water.
Her team recently published a paper arguing that the Webb Space Telescope should be able to conclusively determine within a month whether or not the planet has an atmosphere. And if it does, by collecting data for another five and a half months, they could determine if that planet was actually habitable.
And if it proves to be habitable, she would then push for the next step.
“If we have biosignatures in the atmosphere, the next thing I’d want is that additional data to see if I can get surface features,” Kaltenegger said.
Yes, she would push for focusing the telescope entirely on that one exoplanet in hopes of collecting enough data to see what’s on the surface.
And what really perked me up about her presentation was that she assumes that just as we are examining LP809-9C, the potential inhabitants of LP809-9C could be focusing their space telescopes on us.
“If there’s life out there in the universe and if there are other curious astronomers, whichever alien kind you would want to invoke, I don’t see why they wouldn’t do the same,” Kaltenegger said.
Of course! Why shouldn’t they be looking for us even as we’re looking for them? Anyway, if her proposal is approved, we could have an answer by my next reunion. I hope so.
With all the hiking around campus, the wine tastings, the ice cream, and the mind-blowing cosmic lectures, I don’t know how many more I have in me.
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