NASA’s Next Super Telescope in Search of Habitable Planets

Following on from the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s next super telescope is coming to space. This special telescope is designed for the first time to look for signs of life on planets orbiting stars.

After the success of the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s current plans are much bigger. They are going to establish observatories for habitable worlds. NASA hopes that with this observatory they will be able to take pictures of Earth-like planets.

Eyes on Alien Earths: NASA’s Next Super Telescope Hunts for Habitable Worlds

NASA, Habitable planets, Exoplanets, Super telescope, Space exploration, James Webb Space Telescope, Astrobiology, Life beyond Earth, Future of space exploration, Alien life, Discovery
NASA’s Next Super Telescope in Search of Habitable Planets

Building a space-based super observatory takes a lot of time. The James Webb Telescope, the largest and most complex man-made space telescope to date, was planned in the late 1990s. It was then estimated that it would be able to start its journey around 2010. But its implementation is so complicated

There were, especially origami-like folding mirrors and the use of heat shields, which took a long time for experimentation and development. Finally, this observatory started its journey on Christmas 2021.

In many ways the James Webb Telescope ushered in a new era. Throughout the 1990s, NASA worked on a series of “Great Observatories”. These were large telescopes that only worked with a specific wavelength and target. James Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Telescope, worked only on visible wavelengths of light. On the other hand, the Spitzer Space Telescope operated with infrared light and the Chandra X-ray Observatory operated with X-rays or dyes.

The James Webb Space Telescope, located 9.32 million miles from Earth, is taking pictures of the universe and sending them back to Earth.

The James Webb Telescope mainly works with infrared or infrared light from the universe. And the wavelengths that this telescope operates on, no other great observatory can come close to. Because the James Webb Telescope needs to be self-cooled to operate, it will run out of fuel within about a decade and have to be shut down. Astronomers had already realized this, when they noticed that the telescope was often missing its schedule.

The first step to fill this gap is The Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO). This is going to be the next generation of observatories to continue James Webb’s style.

How to find new habitable planets

The main objective of HWO or The Habitable Worlds Observatory can be understood from its name: the search for habitable worlds.

So far there has been no evidence for the existence of intelligent or single-celled or any other form of life in the universe other than Earth. Earthlings are so far completely alone. But the entire universe remains to be explored, and we have only recently begun to delve into the subject.

There are approximately 300 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. There are also planets of equal or more than that. (Many say the number could be as high as trillions.

Like other planets in the solar system, most of these planets are uninhabitable and inaccessible. But in one respect, the world has a lot in common with them. If a planet of the right mass and density is located at the right distance from its parent star, then that planet is suitable for holding liquid water. And then the possibility of existence of life on that planet is also high. Scientists estimate that our galaxy has at least 5-10 billion Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars.

There are also ways to find out if life exists on these planets. Note that the nearest habitable planet to us is at least hundreds of light years away. It may even be thousands of light years away. It is not possible for us to explore these planets. So we have to look for evidence from afar. That’s what HWO has planned.

For this two special types of technology will be used together. One is the huge mirror, which is about 18 feet tall. It can be compared to that of James Webb. With the help of these mirrors, HWO will be able to peer into the distant universe and take pictures with sufficiently good resolution.

The problem is that these planets orbit the star, and these stars give off so much light that the planets may not be visible in light. So HWO designers are looking for ways to reduce this glare.

One way is to use free-flying sunshades. There will be a large metallic flower-like object that will rotate with the HWO. This sunshade will block the light coming from the stars. As a result, it will be easier to take pictures of the designated planets directly from the observatory.

Another way is coronagraph. This is a small device that will be attached to the main part of the HWO. James Webb had a coronagraph with him. There is also a coronagraph with the Nancy Grace Roman telescope. The Nancy Grace Telescope mission is about to begin, surveying a large part of the universe.

Either way, HWO will help photograph at least 25 extrasolar planets. These planets will be selected using data from James Webb and ground-based observatories. HWO will look for life on planets by examining the reflection of light from the atmosphere.

How to understand the presence of life on other planets

If a planet has the sign of Prana, it will have some effect on the balance of the planet’s atmosphere. As there is a lot of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere, there would not be this amount of oxygen if there were no life. This is because oxygen is produced through photosynthesis. Besides, the existence of excess methane is also found on earth. Methane is a byproduct of various biological processes. Similarly, carbon dioxide is produced as a result of animal respiration. Without life, our atmosphere would have a completely different composition.

HW also hopes to find this ‘biosignature’. This method of finding information using the chemical composition of the atmosphere is called spectroscopy.

With spectroscopy, astronomers break the light back from the target into different wavelengths (spectrums). Different elements and molecules leave their marks or fingerprints on different wavelengths of light. By observing this fingerprint in the spectrum, scientists can understand which elements are present in a target, and even their relative abundances. In this way, they can analyze the composition of the alien atmosphere from the office or at home.

A big step

Currently the HWO is in the design and planning stage. Astronauts from different parts of the United States have come and divided into different groups and are working for this purpose.

They look for the best technology and develop a plan of action to develop the necessary equipment and designs for the job. It may take a long time. It may take more than two decades to fully develop this device.

In addition to the search for life, HWO will be used as a premier astronomical observatory. It will be James Webb’s successor, as the Hubble telescope was James Webb’s.

Astronomers will use HWO to study the properties of the universe’s most distant galaxies, see cosmic explosions in the night sky, learn about the evolution of star-forming regions including nebulae, and more.

Whatever the outcome, it is indeed going to be a giant step forward for humanity. Either we will find conclusive proof of the existence of life and we will know if we are indeed the only life in the universe. If single-celled life is found on other planets, then we will understand that there may be life in the universe apart from Earth.

Or we might get nothing. Then we will be convinced of how precious, rare and worth guarding this fragile world that we call our dear home.

NASA, Habitable planets, Exoplanets, Super telescope, Space exploration, James Webb Space Telescope, Astrobiology, Life beyond Earth, Future of space exploration, Alien life, Discovery

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