Earth as a test object to evaluate the planned LIFE space mission | Space

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The LIFE mission’s five satellites are connected to form a large space telescope. Credit: ETH Zurich / LIFE initiative

Physicists at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich wanted to know whether the planned LIFE space mission could really detect traces of life on other planets. Yes, it can, say the researchers, with the help of observations of our own planet.

This has been demonstrated in a study conducted by the Institute of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at ETH Zurich. Of course, the researchers’ intention wasn’t to answer the question of whether life if possible on Earth itself. Instead, they used the Earth as an example to prove that the planned LIFE (Large Interferometer for Exoplanets) space mission can be a success—and that the planned measurement procedure works.

Searching for life

With a network of five satellites, the international LIFE initiative led by ETH Zurich hopes to one day detect traces of life on exoplanets. It aims to undertake a more detailed study of Earth-like exoplanets—rocky planets that are similar to Earth in size and temperature but orbit other stars.

The plan is to position five smaller satellites in space close to the James Webb Space Telescope. Together, these satellites will form a large telescope that will act as an interferometer to pick up exoplanets’ infrared thermal radiation. The spectrum of the light can then be used to deduce the composition of those exoplanets and their atmospheres. “Our goal is to detect chemical compounds in the light spectrum that hint at life on the exoplanets,” explains Sascha Quanz, who is leading the LIFE initiative.

Earth as an unassuming speck

In the study, which has just been published in The Astrophysical Journal, the researchers Jean-Noël…

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