[Here is a prediction by scientists of the next level that we whites are taking the world to. This new space telescope is going to do incredible things. What is astounding me, is how, through very clever new methods, we are able to discover incredible things at astonishing distances that beggar belief, and we are all able to do this while sitting on our little planet. This certainly changes the idea of space exploration using space ships. It shows you what the incredible minds and technology of our race is capable of. Jan]
Exoplanets: An Earth-Like atmosphere
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
On Oct. 6, 1995, our universe got bigger, sort of, when a pair of astronomers announced the discovery of the first exoplanet to orbit a sun-like star. Called 51 Pegasi b, the orb showed a cozy orbit around its host star of just 4.2 Earth days and a mass about half that of Jupiter’s. According to NASA, the discovery forever changed "the way we see the universe and our place in it." More than a decade later, astronomers have now confirmed 4,104 worlds orbiting stars outside of our solar system. That’s a lot of worlds that were unknown just over a decade ago.
So, the sky’s the limit for the next decade, right? According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sara Seager, absolutely. "This decade will be big for astronomy and for exoplanet science with the anticipated launch of the James Webb Space Telescope [JWST]," said Seager, a planetary scientist and astrophysicist. The cosmic successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST is scheduled to launch in 2021; for the first time, scientists will be able to "see" exoplanets in infrared, meaning they can spot even faint planets that orbit far off from their host star.
What’s more, the telescope will open a new window into the characteristics of these alien worlds. "If the right planet exists, we will be able to detect water vapor on a small rocky planet. Water vapor is indicative of liquid water oceans — since liquid water is needed for all life as we know it, this would be a very big deal," Seager told Live Science. "That’s my number one hope for a breakthrough." (The ultimate goal, of course, is to find a world that has an atmosphere similar to that of Earth’s, according to NASA; in other words, a planet with conditions capable of supporting life.)
And of course, there will be some growing pains, Seager noted. "With the JWST, and the extremely large ground-based telescopes anticipated to come online, the exoplanet community is struggling to transform from individual or small team efforts to large collaborations of dozens or over one hundred people. Not huge by other standards (e.g., LIGO) but it’s tough nonetheless," she said, referring to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, a huge collaboration that involves more than 1,000 scientists across the globe.Originally published on Live Science.