Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Search for Life on Other Planets Improve Our Understanding of Earth

       Charting the course of research and discovery in an astrophysics field as young and dynamic as extrasolars planet is filled with danger, and any any speculation will almost certainly turn out to be just that. Nevertheless,the furious pace of current dscoveries and monumental opportunity to search for signs of life in distant planet are already shaping the course of reseearch and development profoundly within astrophysics, and will continue to do so over the coming decades.
        Extrasolars planet research only began not quite 20 years ago, with first discoveries nd hints of planet orbiting stars. Since then, more than 600 exoplanets have been discovered, with more than 2/3 fof those found only within the last 5 years. The variety, diversity and richness of the exoplanets unearthed so far has exceeded even the wildest expectation.
         Current exoplanet research is about more than finding planets, and whole new interdiciplinary research fields are emerging involving the fields of climate science, geology, and even biosciences. In the last few years, astronomers have started to be able to readily detect and study the atmospheres of exoplanets, measuring their composition, temperatures and dynamics. The atmospheres of these extrasolar planets provide scientist with different and extreme examples climate and conditions.
         Most of the planets amenable to such studies with today's technology are unlike anything in our solar system, such as super Earth with masses much larger than that of the Earth, or hot Jupiter that are gas-giant planets orbiting very close to their parent stars.
           Such extreme example can be used to test and better develop the models and theories we have for the sscience of planetary atmospheres as a whole. In particular, the most sophisticated models used now to study exoplanets were developed for predicting Earth's climate, and they can likely be improved upon when tested against these extreme environments.
           By far the most important discoveries likely in the coming decades is the detection and imaging of a true Earth-like planet and further search for the life on these worlds. Such a task has the potential to realize the late Carl Sagan's dream of living in space and looking back at the "pale dot blue" of Earth, and profoundly alter humanity's perception of our place within the universe.
            Current exoplanet hunters are all striving hard to detect the first Earth-like planet, and the entire exoplanet community is eagerly awaiting results from NASA Kepler mission, which is expected to announce the detection  of such planets within a few years.
            However, taking a direct image of an Earth-like planet and searching for signs of life are monumentally difficult tasks and will almost certainly require the next generation of large space-based observatories beyond the capabilities of even Hubble Space Telescope's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. Such mission are already drawing board, like the Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space concept, capable of detecting biosignatures such as oxygen and water in exoplanet's atmosphere.
            Exoplanet research has rapidly entered golden age of discovery, opening areas of research once relegated solely to the domain of science fiction. These frontline discoveries will be enabled by new technologies and more powerful telescopes. With monumental discoveries and scientific enedeavors such as prospecting for life in the other planets conceivable within the coming decades, exoplanets will no doubt continue to shape the capabilities of the future mission.
                             Dr. David Sing leads an international teams of scientist using Hubble telescope to explore exoplanets



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