NASA scientists are calling for a new framework in the search for alien life.
The agency on Wednesday summarized the contents of a new article published in Nature. The article was led by NASA’s chief scientist Jim Green.
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The group said that creating a scale to evaluate and combine different lines of evidence would help provide context for outcomes related to the search for life.
In addition, the researchers offered a sample scale as a starting point for discussions among anyone who would use it – even if they imagine someone who is informed about decades of experience in astrobiology.
The scale presented contains seven levels, as NASA said, “reflect the twisted, complicated staircase of steps that would lead scientists to declare that they have found life beyond Earth.”
Green and the team used NASA’s technology contingency level as an example.
“Having a scale like this will help us understand where we are in terms of the search for life in specific places, and in terms of the opportunities for missions and technologies that help us in that search,” Green said in a statement. .
At the first level of the scale, scientists would report hints of a signature of life. Next, they wanted to ensure that detection was compromised or affected by the fact that the instruments had been contaminated on Earth. For the tertiary stage, scientists wanted to show how the biological signal exists in an analogous environment.
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Preliminary detection will be supplemented with information on whether the environment in question can support life and exclude non-biological sources at the fourth level, and further and independent detection will be required to reach level five.
Level six, the authors say, includes future observations that exclude alternative hypotheses proposed after the initial announcement.
Level seven, the highest level on the scale, will include independent follow-up observations of predicted biological behavior in that environment.
“With each measurement, we learn more about both biological and non-biological planetary processes,” said Mary Voytek, a research co-author and head of NASA’s astrobiology program. “The search for life beyond Earth requires broad participation from the scientific community and many kinds of observations and experiments. Together, we can be stronger in our efforts to look for hints that we are not alone.”
One of the goals of the agency’s presence on Mars this year is the search for evidence of ancient microbial life, and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory announced this week that astronomers had found evidence of what would be the first planet to be seen. to pass a star outside of the Milky Way.
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NASA noted that all science is a process, including astrobiology, and said that scientists can create and improve the technologies needed to find evidence of life outside of Earth.
“Until now, we have set the public up to believe that there are only two possibilities: it is life or it is not life,” Voytek noted. “We need a better way to share the excitement of our discoveries and demonstrate how each discovery builds on the next, so we can bring the public and other scientists on the journey.”
NASA’s upcoming missions include the Europa Clipper orbiter and Dragonfly octocopter, which will explore Saturn’s moon Titan.