The human map of the Universe reveals that there are more than five thousand exoplanets where life can or could hypothetically exist.
This is the reason why modern observatories are striving to explore and expand the list of planets that are similar to Earth. Both of these tasks may be taken on by the "James Webb" Telescope, which is almost fully operational; scientists are already positioning its primary mirror. It is anticipated that the Webb will be fully functional by early summer.
Unlike the "Hubble," which can only detect gases in the atmosphere of giant gas planets such as Neptune or Jupiter, "Webb" can examine any atmosphere. Prior to this, full-scale atmospheric studies were simply impossible. So, creating the "Webb" was a huge step toward studying exoplanets.
The telescope uses a technique called transmission spectroscopy. How does it work? A planet found between both the observatory and its star partially blocks the star's light. If the planet has an atmosphere, all the gases absorb this light before reaching "Webb's" mirrors. Scientists are also aware that each molecule absorbs different wavelengths. Therefore, they can determine what gases are in the planet's atmosphere by identifying which waves are missing. The "Webb" also operates in infrared, making it more "sensitive" to different gases than "Hubble."
For example, if the "Webb" detects water vapor in the atmosphere, there is a liquid ocean somewhere on the planet. Therefore, there could be life in this ocean. However, of course, "James Webb" cannot determine for sure the existence of life. Still, it will serve as a starting point for a whole new generation of telescopes which will be able to achieve much more in the future!
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