Christian Long

Gerik Israelian: How Spectroscopy Could Prove Alien Life

In TED Talks on May 10, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Reflection by RYAN S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Garik Israelian:  How Spectroscopy Could Prove Alien Life

The uses of spectroscopy, and its potential importance astronomically, are greatly unappreciated in today’s society. Spectroscopy is one of thousands of job that are unknown, un-strived for and yet, also pivotal. Its a job where your discoveries that you make, can be world famous, but the way you found it and your name, will probably never be known.

So to go straight to the point:  What exactly is spectroscopy?

Spectroscopy in simple terms is the study of the spectrum of light, released by certain substance. In high school, this definition would probably only go as far as a chemistry lab, in where you burn different substances to produce colored lights. However when applied to the real world, this study would most likely apply to the study of stars, and what exactly fuels their combustion.

So now that we have defined spectroscopy, and that it does indeed have the potential to be important, if not revolutionary, we are free to focus on the title.

How can spectroscopy prove alien life?

Quite simply, if spectroscopy is the study of how different substances burning produces different lights, then you can work backwards and by looking at the different shades of light that are produced, you can determine what substances were burned, by the shade of light it produces. So lets say, a planet that has alien life somehow crashed into a sun that was later observed, they would read a large amount of whatever, those alien species were made of (most likely Carbon). The misleading part of this title as you probably have guessed, is that for you to determine that alien life did i fact exist on a planet, it would have to be destroyed in the process.

However, spectroscopy can be used for many reasons. Even in regards of discovering alien life. It can be used for the discovery of knew unknown elements, for determining the age of nearby stars, so we know if they are close to expanding (or more importantly exploding).

Spectroscopy, is a fascinating subject, with uses that are far more varied, than I had thought before. I recommend this video for anyone that had ever considered space as a viable career.

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