Scientists have discovered a new way to find oxygen on distant planets, and this could help them discover alien life.
The technique can be used by NASA with the James Webb Space Telescope to “smell” oxygen on planets of distant solar systems.
This, in turn, could help discover living planets that could harbor extraterrestrial life.
One of the possible indicators of life on other planets is the oxygen in their atmosphere. On Earth, oxygen is created when living organisms convert sunlight into chemical energy – and scientists think it can happen on other planets.
Now scientists hope that the new technique may allow them to find the same signal coming from other planets and, in doing so, may find planets that may harbor alien life.
The finding, described in a new article in Nature Astronomy , allows NASA’s telescope to detect one of the signals coming from oxygen molecules when they collide with each other. In the meantime, they block a specific part of the infrared spectrum, and the new telescope will be able to see this and give scientists a clue about the atmosphere of distant worlds.
Technology such as the James Webb Space Telescope is the best hope for examining such distant planets as they are too far away to be visited or even seen in great detail, but it requires incredible advanced technology because of the weakness of the signals.
Thomas Fauchez of NASA ‘s Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study said in a statement:
Prior to our work, oxygen at Earth-like levels was undetectable with Webb.
This oxygen signal has been known since the early 1980s for Earth’s atmospheric studies, but has never been studied for exoplanet research.
Detecting oxygen on a planet may not be a guarantee that something lives there. Scientists have proposed alternative explanations that could create oxygen in exoplanets and therefore may not be a definitive indication that the world is alive.