can the James Webb Space Telescope find traces of life?

The news caused a stir in 2017 when it was announced by NASA: the system Trappist-1only 39 light-years from Earth, carries seven rocky planets (named Trappist-1b to Trappist-1h, depending on their distance from their star) some of which could harbor conditions conducive to life, knowing that the gaseous planets are in principle not conducive to life.

In particular, there could be (or have been) liquid water on several of them. And where there may be water in a liquid state, there is a chance that life could have started to develop, even if other factors must come together and according to our knowledge of exobiology.

A perfect system for further study

By being quite close to the Earth, which can facilitate observations, and with rocky planets (Trappist-1e to Trappist-1g) in the star’s habitable zone (which is a red dwarf, different from the yellow dwarf that is the sun in our solar system), the Trappist-1 system ticks several boxes in the search for the existence of extraterrestrial life on an exoplanet.

There are, however, major differences, such as the rotation synchrone planets around the star. Like the Moon always showing the same face to the Earth, the planets of Trappist-1 could always have the same illuminated face…and therefore the other half perpetually in the shade.

This would mean a side permanently lit and perhaps carrying liquid water and a dark side with water in the form of ice, and above all no day/night alternation which is so important for many terrestrial biological cycles. Life in the Trappist-1 system, if it exists, could therefore also be very different from what we know.

James Webb in the front row

In this search for traces of extraterrestrial life, the télescope spatial James Webb could play a crucial role. Its positioning and its capabilities for infrared observation will make it possible to collect new information on the Trappist-1 system.

James webb space telescope

In particular, it will help to define whether the planets have an atmosphere and, if so, better understand their composition. Finding traces of oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4) would be encouraging, even if phenomena other than a form of life may be the cause, indicates The Parisianand do not necessarily make it a habitable planet.

A space telescope whose instruments study infrared radiation to explore a system whose star is a red dwarf emitting precisely in the infrared is a perfect combination to hope to make interesting discoveries, at least on the dynamics of exoplanets.

Finding potential clues to extraterrestrial life would obviously be a fantastic discovery, but James Webb could already greatly advance the study of other solar systems.

Source: GNT – actualités by

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