How Well Can The Webb Telescope Help Us To Find The Aliens?

From a vast distance, Earth would have appeared basically the same until 10,000 years ago. Agriculture was invented then, and the world has never been the same since.

Farming enabled people to expand, and the scale at which we currently generate food has altered how Earth appears to an outside observer. The same might be said for an inhabited exoplanet, and the Webb Telescope is the first tool to identify these characteristics.

When the new telescope begins scanning the universe later this year, a group of astronomers recently detailed how it might be able to spot “exofarms.”

What Is The Exciting Study Conducted?

On the preprint arXiv server, a paper investigating this idea is accessible. It was created by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of California in conjunction with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science.

The study assumes a few assumptions regarding extraterrestrial agriculture, such as the biosphere will take advantage of the free energy emitted by their suns.

What Are The Assumptions?

If photosynthesis exist, then large-scale plant farming would produce detectable signatures, just as it does on Earth.

Significance Of Nitrogen

One of the fundamental makers of agriculture, according to the team, is nitrogen. Nitrogen makes up the majority of the atmosphere on Earth. N2, however, is a relatively stable molecule in the atmosphere.

Although natural processes can “fix” nitrogen and make it available to plants. Agribusiness requires massive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer.

How Would Webb Help To Find Alien Agriculture Activity?

Production of fertilizers releases ammonia, but on an Earth-like planet, those molecules would fall back to the ground in a matter of days. Webb could detect significant levels of ammonia in a planet’s atmosphere with its strong mid-infrared optics, indicating continued agricultural activity.

The application of nitrogen fertilizer results in the formation of nitrous oxide. Unlike ammonia, nitrous oxide is a byproduct of combustion and can be detected for up to 100 Earth years.

If aliens, like humans, come to the conclusion that combustion is not a viable mode of energy production, it is possible that they will phase it out.

Thus, the presence of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet could indicate large-scale farming activity.

The same may be said about methane, which is produced in vast quantities on Earth by agriculture.

How Can Webb Trace Alien Life?

Webb could theoretically scan exoplanet atmospheres with enough sensitivity to confirm water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, as well as traces of ammonia and nitrous oxide, according to the study’s findings. That is the “techno signature for alien agriculture,” according to the experts.


NASA has spent months ranging from the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope to the deployment and calibration of instruments. Everything has been going smoothly since launch, and we’ll expect the first images by this summer.

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