Are We Alone in the Universe? NASA Calls for New Framework

TRAPPIST-1 f super Earth exoplanet (Credit: NASA)

by Elizabeth Landau
NASA Headquarters

How do we understand the significance of new scientific results related to the search for life? When would we be able to say, “yes, extraterrestrial life has been found?” 

NASA scientists are encouraging the scientific community to establish a new framework that provides context for findings related to the search for life. Writing in the journal Nature, they propose creating a scale for evaluating and combining different lines of evidence that would  ultimately lead to answering the ultimate question: Are we alone in the universe?   

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How to Find Hidden Oceans on Distant Worlds? Use Chemistry

Planets that are between 1.7 and 3.5 times the diameter of Earth are sometimes called “sub-Neptunes.” There are no planets in this size range in Earth’s solar system, but scientists think many sub-Neptunes have thick atmospheres, potentially cloaking rocky surfaces or liquid oceans. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A new study shows how the chemicals in an exoplanet’s atmosphere can, in some cases, reveal whether or not the temperature on its surface is too hot for liquid water.

In our solar system, planets are either small and rocky (like Earth) or large and gaseous (like Neptune). But around other stars, astronomers have found planets that fall in between – worlds slightly larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. These planets may have rocky surfaces or liquid-water oceans, but most are likely to be topped with atmospheres that are many times thicker than Earth’s and opaque.

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EPSC 2021: Cloud Spotting on a Distant Exoplanet

Some of the elements making WASP-127b unique, compared with the planets of our Solar System. (Credits: David Ehrenreich/Université de Genève, Romain Allart/Université de Montréal)

STRASBOURG, France (Europlanet Society PR) — An international team of astronomers has not only detected clouds on the distant exoplanet WASP-127b, but also measured their altitude with unprecedented precision. A presentation by Dr Romain Allart at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2021 shows how, by combining data from a space- and a ground-based telescope, the team has been able to reveal the upper structure of the planet’s atmosphere. This paves the way for similar studies of many other faraway worlds.

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ULA to Launch Landsat 9 Satellite on Monday from Vandenberg

Landsat 9 (Credit: NASA)

VANDERBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (ULA Mission Update) — Everything is progressing toward the ULA Atlas V launch carrying the Landsat 9 mission for NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The mission is planned to lift off on Mon., Sept. 27 at 11:11 a.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. 

Live broadcast coverage of launch will begin at 10:30 a.m. PDT on Sept. 27 and will broadcast live on NASA TV. Live launch updates and webcast available at: www.ulalaunch.com

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Voyage 2050 Sets Sail: ESA Chooses Future Science Mission Themes

Artist impressions of the themes proposed for ESA’s next series of Large-class missions, as part of the Voyage 2050 plan. The themes are moons of the giant planets, temperate exoplanets to the Milky Way, and new physical probes of the early Universe. (Credit: ESA/Science Office)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s large-class science missions for the timeframe 2035-2050 will focus on moons of the giant Solar System planets, temperate exoplanets or the galactic ecosystem, and new physical probes of the early Universe.

“The selection of the Voyage 2050 themes is a pivotal moment for ESA’s science programme, and for the future generation of space scientists and engineers,” says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

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NASA Science Budget Request Fact Sheet

Europa Clipper in orbit around Europa. (Credit: NASA)

NASA FACT SHEET
FY 2022 Budget Request
Science
($ Millions)

NASA’s Science budget, managed by the Science Mission Directorate, includes five major science areas as well as the James Webb Space Telescope which is funded separately from Astrophysics. These areas include:

  • Earth Science to enhance understanding of Earth systems and to observe the effects of climate change. The Budget invests heavily in climate and applications research, begins formulation of the first four Designated Observable missions, and initiates the Earth System Explorers program (consistent with Decadal Survey recommendations). The Budget also supports the ongoing development of the Earth System Observatory including PACE, CLARREO Pathfinder, NISAR, SWOT, and Landsat 9.
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Space Telescope Delivers the Goods: 2,200 Possible Planets

A newly published catalog reveals a fascinating variety of possible exoplanets detected by TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

By Pat Brennan
NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program

The news is out of this world: NASA’s TESS space telescope has captured evidence of more than 2,200 candidate planets orbiting bright, nearby stars, including hundreds of “smaller” planets – many possibly rocky worlds in some ways similar to Earth.

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On the Quest for Other Earths

An international research team with members from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) has developed a new method for directly imaging smaller planets in the habitable zone of a neighbouring star system. This opens up new possibilities in the search for extra-terrestrial life.

by Felix Wuersten

ZURICH — In the search for planets capable of sustaining life, an international research team with members from ETH has taken a significant step forward. As the researchers reported recently in the journal Nature Communications, they found signs of a Neptune-sized planet in the Alpha Centauri star system, a mere 4.4 light years away from Earth. This exoplanet is located in a zone that may offer suitable conditions for life. The team was able to collect data with unprecedented sensitivity, thus registering even very weak signals.

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NASA’s TESS Discovers New Worlds in a River of Young Stars

This illustration sketches out the main features of TOI 451, a triple-planet system located 400 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, 

GREENBELT, Md. — Using observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international team of astronomers has discovered a trio of hot worlds larger than Earth orbiting a much younger version of our Sun called TOI 451. The system resides in the recently discovered Pisces-Eridanus stream, a collection of stars less than 3% the age of our solar system that stretches across one-third of the sky.

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ESA’s Exoplanet Watcher Cheops Reveals Unique Planetary System

Artist impression of the TOI-178 planetary system. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s exoplanet mission  Cheops has revealed a unique planetary system consisting of six exoplanets, five of which are locked in a rare rhythmic dance as they orbit their central star. The sizes and masses of the planets, however, don’t follow such an orderly pattern. This finding challenges current theories of planet formation.

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The 7 Rocky TRAPPIST-1 Planets May Be Made of Similar Stuff

Measuring the mass and diameter of a planet reveals its density, which can give scientists clues about its composition. Scientists now know the density of the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets with a higher precision than any other planets in the universe, other than those in our own solar system. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Precise measurements reveal that the exoplanets have remarkably similar densities, which provides clues about their composition.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is home to the largest group of roughly Earth-size planets ever found in a single stellar system. Located about 40 light-years away, these seven rocky siblings provide an example of the tremendous variety of planetary systems that likely fill the universe.

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NASA Selects 4 Concepts for Small Missions to Study Universe’s Secrets

As neutron stars collide, some of the debris blasts away in particle jets moving at nearly the speed of light, producing a brief burst of gamma rays. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has chosen four small-scale astrophysics missions for further concept development in a new program called Pioneers. Through small satellites and scientific balloons, these selections enable new platforms for exploring cosmic phenomena such as galaxy evolution, exoplanets, high-energy neutrinos, and neutron star mergers.

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What We Learned This Year from Space Station Science

NASA astronaut Anne McClain is pictured in the cupola holding biomedical gear for the Marrow experiment. The study measures fat changes in the bone marrow before and after exposure to microgravity. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Dozens of experiments are going on at any given time aboard the International Space Station. Research conducted in 2020 is advancing our understanding in areas of study from Parkinson’s disease to combustion.

Space station research results published this year came from experiments performed and data collected during the past 20 years of continuous human habitation aboard the orbiting laboratory. Between October 1, 2019, and October 1, 2020, the station’s Program Research Office identified more than 300 scientific publications based on space station research.

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NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic to Complete Successful 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.

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ABB and Nüvü to Deliver Exo-planet Cameras for NASA’s Roman Space Telescope

High-resolution illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope against a starry background. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

\MONTREAL (ABB PR) — A two-year contract awarded to ABB from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will see key ABB/Nüvü Camēras technology fly onboard the space telescope in 2025, on course to capture the first spaceborne images of planets outside our solar system.

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