Indonesian space agency to kick off search for ‘extraterrestrial life’ next year

A handout artist's impression released on Sept 11, 2019, by ESA/Hubble shows the K2-18b super-Earth, the only super-Earth exoplanet known to host both water and temperatures that could support life. (M. KORNMESSER/ESA/Hubble/AFP/File)

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ann): Indonesia's National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) has pledged to begin searching for exoplanets and life beyond the solar system in 2021.

"The media uses the term ‘search for extraterrestrial life', but the technical term is the search of habitable exoplanets," Lapan head Thomas Djamaluddin told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday (Oct 28).

The project to search for exoplanets – planets orbiting distant stars – will begin for the first time in Indonesia following the construction of the National Observatory on Mount Timau in Kupang regency, East Nusa Tenggara.

Touted to be Southeast Asia's largest observatory, the facility started construction in 2017 under the partnership of Lapan, the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), the University of Nusa Cendana in Kupang and the regional administration.

Construction is expected to be completed in 2021.

“At first, [construction] was expected to finish by 2020, but it was postponed until 2021 due to several issues, including road access and the Covid-19 pandemic, ” Thomas said.

With an advanced telescope 3.8m in diameter, the observatory would further help astronomers in their hunt for exoplanets that may host life like planet Earth, he added.

Data collected by Nasa's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite reveals that astronomers have found more than 3,000 exoplanets outside the solar system after 20 years of ground and space-based observations.

The TESS recently found the first possible habitable zone, an Earth-sized planet named TOI-700d, located 102 lightyears away from Earth. It could potentially be home to liquid water and have an atmosphere that could sustain life.

With the new astronomical observatory centre in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia will soon join other nations in the hunt for habitable-zone exoplanets.

Thomas asserted that the hunt for exoplanets was only one of several upcoming projects for Lapan, which would also provide public education in astronomy through the new observatory centre. - The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

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