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The Search for Extraterrestrial Life 16

The Webb wraps up a year of solid achievements, including the first direct image of an exoplanet

In our universe:

Most distant galaxies observed in 2022: “Webb was made to observe the most distant galaxies in the universe, and in mid-December, scientists confirmed that they had done just that. The telescope has officially observed the four most distant galaxies known, which also means they are the oldest. Webb observed the galaxies as they appeared about 13.4 billion years ago, when the universe was only 350 million years old, about 2% of its current age.” – Rebecca Sohn, Space.com, December 29, 2022

Meanwhile, a much bigger telescope array, the multinational SKAO project, is under construction:

Composed of respectively hundreds of dishes and thousands of antennas, the SKAO’s telescopes will be the two most advanced radio telescopes on Earth.

Together with other state-of-the-art research facilities, the SKAO’s telescopes will explore the unknown frontiers of science and deepen our understanding of key processes, including the formation and evolution of galaxies, fundamental physics in extreme environments and the origins of life.

In our galaxy:

Direct image of an exoplanet: From “ 12 amazing James Webb Space Telescope discoveries of 2022″:

“In September, it captured its first direct image of an exoplanet.

“This is a transformative moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy generally,” Sasha Hinkley, an astronomer at the University of Exeter in the U.K. who led these observations, said in a statement(opens in new tab) in September.

The planet, called HIP 65426 b, was discovered in 2017. To view it, scientists used two of Webb’s cameras, several filters, and the telescope’s coronagraphs, tools which blocked out the light of the central star. Along with the telescope’s exceptional sensitivity, the planet has several features that make it easier to observe. At 100 times the distance from our sun to the Earth, this planet is much farther away from its host star than any planet in our solar system (in contrast, Pluto is only 40 times that sun-Earth distance from our sun). A colossal gas giant, it’s also exceptionally large — about 12 times the size of Jupiter.” – Rebecca Sohn, Space.com, December 29, 2022

More on HIP 65426 b

The TRAPPIST-1 system: “JWST gets first glimpse of 7-planet system with potentially habitable worlds”

Results so far are preliminary and don’t yet indicate what sorts of atmospheres these planets might actually have. But if they have dense atmospheres containing intriguing molecules such as carbon dioxide or methane, the US$10-billion telescope will be able to detect them in the coming months and years. No other observatory has been powerful enough to spot these atmospheres. – Alexandra Witze, Nature December 16, 2022

More on the Trappist-1 star system:

At SciTechDaily, the University of Arkansas offered a new theory which suggests that the origin of life on Earth-like planets is likely:

“In other words, the evidence of life on Earth is not of neutral value in making the case for life on similar planets. As such, our life suggests that life is more likely to emerge on other Earth-like planets — maybe even on the recent “super-Earth” type planet, LP 890-9b, discovered 100 light years away.” (December 14, 2022 The paper is open access. )

At Space.com, Robert Lee offers “10 things we learned about UFOs and aliens (or the lack thereof) in 2022,” including

“In June, a team of scientists suggested that planets may not be the location of choice for intelligent life. Instead, advanced civilizations may dwell on so-called Dyson spheres orbiting the remnants of sunlike stars known as white dwarfs. An advanced civilization would need huge amounts of energy, and even totally coating their world with energy-gathering solar panels would not be enough to harvest this, they said.” (December 26, 2022)

More at LiveScience. Dyson spheres:

In our solar system:

Blunt question: Is our solar system an anomaly? “We’ve Never Found Anything Like The Solar System. Is It a Freak in Space?” asks Michelle Starr at ScienceAlert (December 29, 2022):

By far, the most numerous group of exoplanets is a class that isn’t even represented in the Solar System. That’s the mini-Neptune – gas-enveloped exoplanets that are smaller than Neptune and larger than Earth in size.

Most of the confirmed exoplanets are on much shorter orbits than Earth; in fact, more than half have orbits of less than 20 days.

Most of the exoplanets we’ve found orbit solitary stars, much like our Sun. Fewer than 10 percent are in multi-star systems. Yet most of the stars in the Milky Way are members of a multi-star systems, with estimates as high as 80 percent seen in a partnership orbiting at least one other star.

Of course, the ones we’ve found may just be easier to find. Anyway, there’s only one way to find out. Meanwhile…

Uranus’s moon Miranda has been in the news as scientists investigate a potential regolith: “In a recent study published in The Planetary Science Journal, a pair of researchers led by The Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute in California investigated the potential origin for the thick regolith deposits on Uranus’ moon, Miranda. The purpose of this study was to determine Miranda’s internal structure, most notably its interior heat, which could help determine if Miranda harbors—or ever harbored—an internal ocean… Regolith is defined as “a region of loose unconsolidated rock and dust that sits atop a layer of bedrock”, and the surface material on both the Moon and Mars are frequently referred to as regolith as opposed to soil much like Earth. The difference being is soil provides necessary nutrients and minerals for things to grow, whereas regolith can be considered dead soil.” – (Laurence Tognetti, Universe Today, December 22, 2022 The paper is open access.)

Jupiter’s moon Europa: “Comet Impacts Could Have Brought the Raw Ingredients for Life to Europa’s Ocean” says Evan Gough at Universe Today:

The study examines comet impacts on Europa and how they could deliver important chemicals from the moon’s frigid surface to the warm, subsurface ocean. Europa’s ice shell is a barrier tens of kilometres thick, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where a comet could break through all that ice. But the authors say it might not have to. Instead, a comet might only need to make it halfway through all that ice, and natural conditions would do the rest. (December 21, 2022 The paper is open access. )

Getting places in our solar system via solar power: “Compared to light sail concepts that require powerful lasers, a dynamic soaring solar sail has minimal power requirements. And, like its electric and magnetic counterparts, a solar sail that can generate lift from solar wind does not require propellant, making it a much lighter and more cost-effective method than other interstellar concepts. Lastly, it also has certain advantages over electric, magnetic, and other concepts that try to harness solar wind as a means of propulsion.” – Matt Williams, Universe Today, December 15, 2022 The paper is open access.

Right next door:

NASA offers a video of winter on Mars:

Making spirits bright? Well, not quite but…

Here on Earth:

Earth from space from China’s Tiengong Space Station:

More on how our universe is fine-tuned for life

(the main reason, after all, for persisting in the search): Steve Meyer: More impressively, the ratio of the electromagnetic force to gravity must be accurate to 1 part in 1040. Were this ratio a bit lower, the gravitational attraction would be too strong in comparison to the contravening force of electromagnetism pushing nuclei apart. In that case, stars would, again, burn too quickly and unevenly to allow for the formation of long-lived stars and stable solar systems. Were this ratio a bit higher, gravitational attraction would be too weak in comparison to electromagnetism. That would have prevented stars from burning hot enough to produce the heavier elements needed for life. Indeed, slight differences in the strength of any of these constants or their ratios would preclude the possibility of life. Martin Rees, an emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, who is Astronomer Royal for the United Kingdom, summed up the matter with characteristic British understatement: “The possibility of life as we know it depends on the values of a few basic physical constants and is, in some respects, remarkably sensitive to their numerical values. Nature does exhibit remarkable coincidences.” – Stephen C. Meyer. Return of the God Hypothesis, HarperCollins. Kindle Edition, 2021, pp. 220-221).

You may also wish to read: The search for extraterrestrial life 15 Recent news is about Earth-like planets and water worlds — and how comet impacts may be providing Europa’s oceans with material. Our Moon’s lava tubes are being considered as permanent moon base locations; they protect against radiation, meteorites, and thermal shock.

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The Search for Extraterrestrial Life 16