A recent article in EOS.org outlines a strategy proposed by NASA/Ames/SETI Institute/JPL:-Caltech to study our relative uniqueness in the universe. A combination of major efforts and individual studies would focus on questions that ask if our habitable planet and/or our
solar system is a rarity in our galaxy? “How do Earth-like planets form?” What determines whether they are habitable or not? The 20-year study proposed by a “committee of prominent exoplanet researchers” would also ask if Earth’s life is unique or not.
The study of small temperate planets, focusing on their light spectra providing clues to their temperature and atmosphere, would be done by a space-based mission. U.S.investment should be on “ground-based giant segmented telescopes” (the giant Magellan and Thirty Meter).
Different new exoplanets–massive distant planets and “free-floating” ones– should be found and their spectra measured by NASA’s wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
The committee has stated that life can not be identified on exoplanets without confirmation by more than one method or researcher. Also, measuring an exoplanet’s mass must be “extremely precise.” Current radial velocity instruments are not precise enough.
The commonality of Earth-like planets could be determined by the James Webb Space Telescope’s survey of exoplanet atmospheres, scheduled for launch in 2021. These “exoatmosphere swings with size measurements could allow us to characterize thousands of planets.”
Again, finding life on an exoplanet will require multiple efforts and ideas from coordinated “complementary projects.” Finally, suggestion 7 emphasizes the need for robust funding of individual investigators in all relevant fields of “up-to-date foundational science.” with the first five years directed to the James Webb Space Telescope, the next ten years devoted to NASA’s ground-based Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope followed by planning for a “space-based direct imaging missions to be completed in 2039.”
Meanwhile, TESS is busy confirming exoplanet sitings. The first three described by NASA Jan. 7 confirmed how variable they can be. Only one, LHS 3884B is close to Earth size (1.3 mas) and probably very hot, given it close 11 hour orbit. Another is very large (HD21749b, 3 x Earth-size) and could be a watery planet at 300 degrees F in a 36 day orbit. TESS will be valuable in studying supernovae and finding comets, asteroids, various types of stars and eclipsing binaries.
Closer to home, a future (2020) Rover landing site has been photographed on Mars. It is a dry lake bed, an impact crater, with evidence of ancient water flows. There is hope that “signs of ancient microbial life” could be found there. The basin is 45 kilometers wide and
apparently overflowed. It burst its edges and flooded surrounding areas. The nearby river “delta’s sediments and clays” may have trapped ancient life. Nearby is also a deep river valley, a northeastern outlet to the basin.
This interesting terrain has landforms that go back 3.6 billions years. It should prove quite interesting with its ability to characterize the local environment and to drill and collect rock samples. Meanwhile, we’re learning more about early life possibilities.
Stayed tuned. I’m reading another (See my book reviews on my Goodreads blog.) book that suggests that Mars had a more congenial climate than Earth in the early years of the solar system. Hence it may have spawned the life we enjoy here on Earth before it got started here. The solar system was a wild place in those days, threatened with blasts from
roaming comets left over from the sun system’s clean-up. When Mars became less friendly to life, Earth was looking good for critters needing a more welcome place to settle and evolve. The puzzle about how it all began continues.
Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1.)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)
Nautilus Silver Award 2013 YA
ForeWord IBPA finalist 2012 adult SF
The Alien Effect (Book 3.)
An Alien’s Quest (Book 4. Released Nov.21, 2016)
Excerpts, Synopses, Reviews, On Writing, Characters and More-
Reviews of significant books- http://www.goodreads.com/Cary_Neeper
How the Hen House Turns- http://www.ladailypost.com
Complexity, Bio, Bibliography and Links- http://caryneeper.com
Astrobiology- https://astronaut.com search:Who’s Out There