“Can we envisage life outside the solar system?” This question posed by so many scientists could find an answer within twenty-five years, according to Sasha Quanz, astrophysicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
During a press conference dated September 2, echoed by an article from Space.com, this Swiss researcher detailed the future missions that the European Space Agency wishes to implement to determine the presence or absence of life outside the solar system. While the 25-year deadline may seem ambitious, it is not “idealistic”assures Quanz.
If we want an exoplanet to be habitable, it must be near a star: this makes living conditions possible. Thus, the first stage of this mission would consist of a phase “of observation”, explains Quanz, “where we would take pictures of these different exoplanets”, in order to know their position in relation to the stars and to be able to compare them to the Earth.
For this, Quanz and his team are currently working on the development of the new camera and the infrared spectrograph which must be added to the giant European telescope, whose commissioning is planned between 2024 and 2027. “Its initial goal will be to photograph the first Earth-like planet, he describes. In the long term, we hope to take pictures of several stars and study the atmospheres of dozens of exoplanets.
A mission without James-Webb
But this new tool should have some limitations, admits Quanz: A ground-based telescope can run into interference from Earth’s atmosphere, which skews data from distant planets. It would thus run the risk of not being “the first tool to detect signs of probable life on a planet outside the solar system”.
Moreover, Quanz and his team cannot count on the support of the James-Webb space telescope to carry out this mission. Although he had achieved exceptional feats – such as the discovery of carbon dioxide on an exoplanet – James-Webb would not be powerful enough to observe small planets similar to Earth, nor capable of orbiting close to them. their stars at distances where liquid water would likely be, Quanz points out.
A completely new mission is therefore necessary to achieve this objective. According to Quanz, it is already being discussed at the European Space Agency. Called “LIFE” (for “Large Interferometer For Exoplanets”), the mission is currently in its initial study phase and has not yet been officially approved or funded.