News Release 

Scientists may detect signs of extraterrestrial life in the next 5 to 10 years

Telescope launching this autumn could spot biosignatures on other planets within three days

American Physical Society

Research News

IMAGE

IMAGE: An artistic impression of one of the exoplanets in the study, K2-18b. The image shows the planet, its host star, and an accompanying planet in this system. K2-18b is now... view more 

Credit: ESA / Hubble, M. Kornmesser, CC BY 4.0

Research shows that a new telescope could detect a potential signature of life on other planets in as little as 60 hours.

"What really surprised me about the results is that we may realistically find signs of life on other planets in the next 5 to 10 years," said Caprice Phillips, a graduate student at The Ohio State University, who will share preliminary findings at a press conference during the 2021 APS April Meeting.

Gas dwarf planets have the potential to foster life. But because none of these super-Earths or mini-Neptunes exist within our solar system, scientists struggle to determine whether their atmospheres contain ammonia and other potential signs of living things.

Phillips calculated that when the James Webb Space Telescope launches this October, it could feasibly detect ammonia around six gas dwarf planets after just a few orbits.

She and her team modeled how JWST instruments would respond to varying clouds and atmospheric conditions, then produced a ranked list of where the telescope should search for life.

"Humankind has contemplated the questions, 'Are we alone? What is life? Is life elsewhere similar to us?'" said Phillips. "My research suggests that for the first time, we have the scientific knowledge and technological capabilities to realistically begin to find the answers to these questions."

FEATURED TALK

Detecting Biosignatures in the Atmospheres of Gas Dwarfs With JWST (K05.2)
2:06 p.m. - 2:42 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 18, 2021
Caprice Phillips, phillips.1622@buckeyemail.osu.edu
Livestream: Access here
Abstract: https://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR21/Session/K05.2

PRESS CONFERENCE

Register for the press conference to be held on Zoom at 12:00 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 18, 2021.

Speaker:

  • Caprice Phillips (Ohio State)

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About APS

The American Physical Society is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents over 55,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are located in College Park, Maryland (Headquarters), Ridge, New York, and Washington, DC.

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