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How to look for signs of life on a planet 40 light-years away

26 Jun 2019, 12:14 UTC
How to look for signs of life on a planet 40 light-years away
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From AbSciCon 2019 in Bellevue, Washington
Tuesday was the second day of the Astrobiology Science Conference 2019 (AbSciCon 2019) here in the Pacific Northwest, and by now everyone has their bearings. There was a sense that today everyone got down to business.

Like any big conference, the attendees here fall into groups. There are the old-timers and leading lights who know their stuff and act much like directors in a corporation. There are the workers – hard core scientists, postdocs and graduate students who are neck deep designing a new instrument, a new computer model or the next telescope. They seem to understand everything. Then there are undergraduates fascinated by space exploration, looking to find a way into this rapidly expanding field. The latter tend to travel in flocks, their mentors never far away.
The field of astrobiology is still profoundly new. The first confirmed exoplanets were discovered in 1992, and over 4000 are now known, with more found nearly every day. Today Karl Stapelfeldt, chief scientist of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (now that is a sweet position) said the pace is doubling every two and a half years.
Plethora of new missions
A dozen missions, real or conceptual, must ...

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