New Alien Detecting Technique Created by Caltech Researchers

We’ve recently just discovered seven potentially habitable exoplanets just 40 light-years away, orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1. This amazing breakthrough gives us hope that we may, in fact, find alien life on other worlds and could one day come in contact with them. But, nothing has yet been confirmed, and scientists are still trying to ascertain for certain if there are real signs of life on those planets and more.

In order to try and find the answers, a team of Caltech scientists created a solution that would transform some of the most powerful telescopes into alien hunting devices. Their solution is a technique called “high-dispersion coronagraphy” and is a way of helping scientists find biosignatures on exoplanets. As part of the method, they also employed the use of a coronagraph to help block out bright starlight that can sometimes block out the best images of the planet. These devices have been used for quite some time now, but this new technique uses it alongside a high-resolution spectrometer to filter out, even more, light and allows the researchers to “improve the sensitivity of our system by a factor of 100 to 1,000 over ground-based methods,” says Dimitri Mawet, head of the Caltech team.

A laboratory setup of instrumentation designed to search for biosignatures on exoplanets using the future Thirty Meter Telescope. The path that light will take through the devices is animated. The equipment is roughly the same size as what would be installed in a telescope, but would be arranged differently. Credit: Caltech/IPAC-TMT

Diagram shows how new technology developed at Caltech will work in the future to help astronomers search for molecular biosignatures on exoplanets. Coronagraphs block a star’s light, making orbiting planets easier to see. High-resolution spectrometers would help further isolate a planet’s light, and could reveal molecules in the planet’s atmosphere.
Credit: Caltech/IPAC-TMT

To combine the high-resolution spectrograph and the coronagraph, the team used optical fibers which also aided in removing starlight. When this method is used more in the future, scientists will be able to learn a great deal more about these exoplanets and their atmospheres, appearances, and weather patterns, which in turn will enable us to see if there is alien life out there.

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