NASA has announced the creation of the NExSS (Nexus for Exoplanet System Science), coalition, an initiative dedicated to the search for life on planets outside the solar system. It puts together different disciplines because this research goes beyond just astronomy: for example, it’s of interest to planetary and climate science researchers.
The NExSS coalition will take advantage of various types of expertise from different scientific communities supported by NASA. It will encompass various scientists already working in various NASA centers but also others from ten a number of universities and two research institutes. The selections were made from proposals submitted to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The “Exoplanets Unveiled” team, led by James Graham, will focus on a research related to the properties of exoplanetary systems. The specific question they’ll try to answer concerns their formation, evolution and the potential to host life forms.
The EOS (Earths in Other Solar Systems) team, led by Daniel Apai, will combine astronomical observations of exoplanets and planetary systems in formation with powerful computer simulations and unique studies of meteorites from the early stage of the solar system. The aim is to understand how Earth-like planets form and how the basic ingredients for life – meaning molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen – are brought to these worlds.
A team of the Arizona State University in Phoenix, led by Steven Desch, will use a similar approach. The researchers will put planetary habitability in a chemical context to produce a “periodic table of planets”. This team’s discoveries will be useful to the other teams that create models of the atmospheres of other worlds.
The “Living, Breathing Planet Team” team, led by William B. Moore, will explore how the loss of hydrogen and other atmospheric compounds changed the chemistry and the conditions on the surface of the planets of the solar system and beyond. The purpose is to determine the habitability in the past and present of Mars and also Venus to form the basis for identifying habitable exoplanets.
The team NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, based at the University of Washington, Seattle, founded in 2001, will be absorbed in the NExSS coalition. This team, led by Victoria Meadows, will combine expertise in various fields to understand what factors affect the habitability of exoplanets. Another goal is to study the possibility to detect signs of habitability and life on them.
Five more teams from the Planetary Science Division portion of the Exoplanets Research Program (ExRP). They’ll contribute with unique combinations of expertise to understand the fundamental origins of the exoplanetary systems through laboratory studies or through observations.
Other teams from various universities and the SETI Institute will contribute in various ways to the NExSS coalition. The instruments built in recent decades uncovered some thousand exoplanets dramatically increasing our knowledge on exoplanetary systems but this is just the beginning.
The missions planned for the coming years will allow to obtain even more accurate data on the exoplanets already discovered and to discover many more of them. The NExSS coalition will allow to coordinate their analyzes to really understand which ones might be habitable and find alien life forms. That’s why earlier this month chief scientist at NASA, at an agency’s panel stated that in the course of our life we may finally have an answer whether we are alone in the solar system and beyond.