Spectroscopy: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Essay

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Throughout history humanity has been fascinated by the existence of extraterrestrial life. Today such ventures are in the development process and the discovery of life beyond our solar system, no matter how primitive, may soon become a huge(important?) scientific breakthrough. The three basic things that are required to consider a place even remotely habitable are water, a source of energy, and organic materials. Habitability also depends on other factors that must also be taken into consideration such as how close the planet is to its star (in the case of our solar system, the sun), how long the water and organic materials existed there, and the size and mass of the planet. One must not confuse habitable with inhabited. The term …show more content…
A red dwarf star’s HZ, for example, would be much closer to the star itself compared with that of our sun. It is also important to determine the planet’s size and mass, which is imperative in deciding whether it can sustain an atmosphere. Maintaining an atmosphere is essential for life to exist and small a planet with a small gravitational force at its surface may not be capable of retaining one. The Kepler transit data can only measure planet masses, diameters, orbital periods, and parent star types and although this information is useful for determining habitable zones, further data is required to determine true habitability. The latter can be done by studying the composition of the exoplanet’s atmosphere.

The best technology available today for studying the chemical composition of stars and planets is spectroscopy, a scientific tool that dissects light into its component colours (Astronomy mag. P.31). “A planet within 100 light-years of Earth is close enough to provide sufficient light for scientists to dissect light into its component colors” (Ray Villard, Astronomy ). Spectrographs are used by astronomers to observe discrete spectra. Discrete spectra are produced by gases, such as … when specific wavelengths of light are absorbed or emitted by the gases. This causes dark bands to appear on the spectrum where the specific wavelengths of light are absent. A scientist can