It wasn’t so long ago that we found out there is an Earth-sized planet in a habitable zone of a star. But how many others are out there, and do we know if planets like this are truly habitable? “Looking towards the future, what we really want to do eventually is transform our knowledge from planets in the habitable zone to
planetary environments,” said Natalie Batalha, a co-investigator on NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, in a webcast presentation today (April 28) .
This means that astronomers will be able to, from a distance, look at “biosignatures” of life in the atmosphere. What a biosignature would be is still being characterized, but it could be something like an unusually high proportion of oxygen — as long as abiotic processes are not accounted for, of course.
Batalha identified these parameters for finding other Earths in a presentation at the “Habitable Worlds Across Time and Space” conference presented by the Space Telescope Science Institute:
Detections of planets in the habitable zone: other telescopes (left) vs. the Kepler space telescope. Credit: Natalie Batalha / NASA (screenshot)
- The telescope must be sensitive to an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a G, K or M-type star (which are stars that are like the sun);
- A uniform and reliable detection catalog with well-understood sizes, orbital periods and insolation fluxes (energy received from the sun);
- Knowledge of Kepler’s detection efficiency and the planetary catalog’s reliability;
- Well-documented and accessible data products for other community members to analyze.
via Universe Today.