After a handful of delays, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be launched into space later this year. According to a new study from researchers from The Ohio State University, it's this new piece of technology from NASA that could uncover the existence of extraterrestrial life as soon as five years from now.
Caprice Phillips, a graduate student at OSU, and her team took part in a virtual panel this weekend discussing how astronomers will be able to use the new telescope — one scientists say will be a major upgrade over the Hubble Telescope currently in use — to detect biosignatures in the atmospheres of gas dwarfs.
"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," Phillips told APS Physics.
While it might take years for irrefutable proof of extraterrestrial life, Phillips and her team think instruments on the JWST could find the aforementioned biosignature within minutes of its launch. One of the primary chemicals or makeups Phillips says scientists should look for is ammonia, one hallmark sign of life.
The study released by this team suggests the JWST can find the presence of ammonia of the six nearest gas dwarf planets within 60 hours or so, or two and a half days.
“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.”
Admittedly, Phillips' timeline is much more optimistic than some of her colleagues. Earlier this month, string theorist Michio Kaku said it was his belief the Webb Telescope could communicate with alien life at some point within the next century.
"Soon we’ll have the Webb Telescope up in orbit and we’ll have thousands of planets to look at, and that’s why I think the chances are quite high that we may make contact with an alien civilization," Kaku told The Guardian. "There are some colleagues of mine that believe we should reach out to them. I think that’s a terrible idea."
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