Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2023

Last year, the long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) finally blasted off from Earth. It has since reached its final position and turned on its super high-tech cold camera. Scientists hope to carry out a wide range of missions on this incredible piece of machinery, with the end goal of uncovering secrets about dark matter, solar systems, star formation, and more.

Is anyone out there?

Thanks to a recent study from Cornell University, the JWST could also search for planets harboring intelligent life

The team realized that intelligent life brings a myriad of pollution with it. We humans are the perfect example of this. Therefore, the recent paper brought to light the possibility that a signature of industrial pollutants may actually help recognize other planets such as ours.

A telltale biosignature

The paper specifically focused on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), agents that were previously used as refrigerants and cleaning agents. The chemicals are now banned thanks to their ozone destroying properties. They are still detectable in Earth’s atmosphere and could actually give the planet away for detection to other life forms.

This biosignature can be picked up by Webb’s powerful infra-red cameras. The theory is if other planets have rapidly industrialized like here on Earth, this same signal would hopefully be emitted, and intelligent life could be spotted.

There are some limits to the type of planet detectable using this technique due to the strength of signals from neighboring stars and planets. Although, it would be a huge step forward in the detection of intelligent life like our own. 

The paper, published in arXiv, concludes: “with the launch of JWST, humanity may be very close to an important milestone in SETI [the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence]: one where we are capable of detecting from nearby stars not just powerful, deliberate, transient, and highly directional transmissions like our own (such as the Arecibo Message), but consistent, passive techno signatures of the same strength as our own.”

Source study: arXivDetectability of Chlorofluorocarbons in the Atmospheres of Habitable M-dwarf Planets

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