With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a dream has come true for ETH astronomer Adrian Glass – but he has been working on new targets for a long time.
“In observational astronomy, the James Webb Space Telescope is the instrument we have been waiting for for almost 30 years.” Adrian Glaser sits for an interview at the ETH Laboratory at the Institute of Particle and Astronomy in Zurich.
Adrian Glaser has been a Senior Researcher at ETH Zurich Institute of Particle and Astronomy since 2014. For the past two decades, he has been actively involved in the design, development and calibration of infrared instruments for the world’s largest telescopes on the ground and in space.
Next to him, in a safety case made of Plexiglas, is the technical double of a complex locking mechanism. This will protect one of the infrared devices in the James Webb telescope from contamination.
Adrian Glaser created this closure early in his scientific career – almost 20 years ago. From then on he waited until the mission began.
During the “commission phase”, when the telescope begins to operate in space, he will be one of the selected scientists allowed to be at the NASA control center in Baltimore: while the instrument works and generates the scientific data that researchers worldwide expect. , Glaser will be relieved: “First pictures – that’s what I’m most looking forward to.” But really “James Webb” is a thing of the past for him.
In search of a second earth
Adrian Glaser has been working on next generation telescopes for a long time. Meanwhile, he has matured into a globally sought-after expert in infrared telescopes and heads his company’s technology department.
Together with his scientific director Saska Quans, he is responsible for the METIS infrared measuring device on the largest telescope (ELT) on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESO), which is to operate in the Atacama Desert in Chile. 2027.
The ELT will have a large mirror measuring 39 meters, large enough to catch the infrared radiation of a relatively small Earth-like planet. It, like the Earth, orbits relatively close to the brightest sun and cannot be seen by other telescopes. ELT can also analyze the chemical composition of the atmospheres of distant planets.
For this purpose it will work in conjunction with the James Webb Space Telescope. There is great hope that something will be discovered, but Adrian Glaser and Saska Kwans agree: two telescopes cannot determine if any of these distant planets are alive, and the resolution of the mirror is not sufficient.
Nevertheless, Glaser continues to pose this fundamental question: “Are we human beings alone in the universe?”
Is there anyone outside?
Adrian Glauser and his science director Sascha Quanz firmly believe: with the best infrared telescope you can help answer all these questions.
The telescope has the nickname “LIFE”: a series of several satellite telescopes about 1.5 million kilometers apart in space. When you combine them together, they form a large glass surface.
Life will be the task of proving life for the first time on other planets.
With such a large structure we can look deeply into the atmospheres of distant planets and analyze them even better chemically. If there are signs of methane, ozone or water, it is almost certain that it is a sign of life. Both astronomers are convinced: “Life will be the first mission to prove life on other planets”.
Will Adrian Glaser watch it? He even thinks it will not be long: “I hope one day today’s children will be able to read it. Thanks to life, life on the planet beyond the sun has been implicitly proven.”