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2018-09-24. How Well Can the Webb Telescope Detect Signs of Exoplanet Life?

posted Sep 29, 2018, 9:11 PM by Alan Gould
By Lucas Joel, Eos/AGU. [https://eos.org/articles/how-well-can-the-webb-telescope-detect-signs-of-exoplanet-life] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: ...what NASA’s next-generation, space-based telescope will be able to do: “see the first light of the universe, watch galaxies collide, see stars and planets being born, find and study exoplanets.” ...recent research suggests that the [James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)] might have a tricky time detecting at least one telltale sign of life: oxygen in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. ... Noah Planavsky, a biogeochemist at Yale University, and a team of researchers recently found that a planet’s atmosphere with an extremely small amount of oxygen can still support life. This finding means there could be planets that have only minute oxygen levels—but that nonetheless harbor life—that would appear to be dead to JWST. ...JWST was not originally designed to scan distant planets for their oxygen concentrations. ...JWST’s oxygen-spotting prospects may be dim, but Joshua Krissansen-Totton, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington, thinks there is a good chance that the telescope will be able to detect two other molecules that would suggest the presence of life: carbon dioxide and methane. It will be possible to spot those molecules in a planet’s atmosphere, Krissansen-Totton explained, because they emit light in the infrared portion of the spectrum....