The best hope for finding life on another world isn’t listening for coded messages or traveling to distant stars, it’s detecting the chemical signs of life in exoplanet atmospheres. This long hoped-for achievement is often thought to be beyond our current observatories, but a new study argues that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) could pull it off.
Most of the exoplanets we’ve discovered so far have been found by the transit method. This is where a planet passes in front of its star from our point of view. Even though we can’t observe the planet directly, we can see the star’s brightness dip by a fraction of a percent. As we watch stars over time, we can find a regular pattern of brightness dips, indicating the presence of a planet.