q2YkvWdUUNQ.jpg

What’ll It Take to Find Life? Searching the Universe for Biosignatures

The supertelescopes are coming, enormous ground and space-based observatories that’ll let us directly observe the atmospheres of distant worlds. We know there’s life on Earth, and our atmosphere tells the tale, so can we do the same thing with extrasolar planets? It turns out, coming up with a single biosignature, a chemical in the atmosphere that tells you that yes, absolutely, there’s life on that world, is really tough.

Sign up to my weekly email newsletter:
https://www.universetoday.com/newsletter

Support us at: http://www.patreon.com/universetoday
More stories at: http://www.universetoday.com/
Follow us on Twitter: @universetoday
Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/universetoday
Google+ – https://plus.google.com/+universetoday/
Instagram – http://instagram.com/universetoday

Team: Fraser Cain – @fcain / frasercain@gmail.com
Karla Thompson – @karlaii / https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEItkORQYd4Wf0TpgYI_1fw
Chad Weber – weber.chad@gmail.com
Chloe Cain – Instagram: @chloegwen2001

References:
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/1794-ssc2007-09a1-First-Map-of-an-Exoplanet-Atmosphere
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/news/1950-ssc2017-06–Warm-Neptune-Has-Unexpectedly-Primitive-Atmosphere
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/probing-seven-worlds-with-nasas-james-webb-space-telescope
https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1710/1710.03976.pdf

I’ve got to admit, I’ve been pretty bad for this in the past. In old episodes of Astronomy Cast and the Weekly Space Hangout, even here in the Guide to Space, I’ve said that if we could just sample the atmosphere of a distant world, we could say with conviction if there’s life there.

Just detect ozone in the atmosphere, or methane, or even pollution and you could say, “there’s life there.” Well, future Fraser is here to correct past Fraser. While I admire his naive enthusiasm for the search for aliens, it turns out, as always, things are going to be more difficult than we previously thought.

Astrobiologists are actually struggling to figure out a single smoking gun biosignature that could be used to say there’s life out there. And that’s because natural processes seem to have clever ways of fooling us.

What are some potential biosignatures, why are they problematic, and what will it take to get that confirmation?

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *