MIT scientists compile list of potential gases to guide search for life on exoplanets
New Rochelle, May 5, 2016–A new approach intended to maximize the chances of identifying planets orbiting nearby stars that support life focuses on creating a comprehensive list of the molecules that might be present in the atmospheres of these exoplanets. Biosignature gases emitted by exoplanetary life forms could be detected remotely by space telescopes, but these gases might have quite different compositions from those in Earth's atmosphere, according to an article in Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free for download on the Astrobiology website until June 5, 2016.
S. Seager, W. Bains, and J.J. Petkowski, MIT (Cambridge, MA) and Rufus Scientific (Cambridge, U.K.), propose that all stable and potential volatile molecules should be considered as possible biosignature gases. In the article "Toward a List of Molecules as Potential Biosignature Gases for the Search for Life on Exoplanets and Applications to Terrestrial Biochemistry," the researchers laid the groundwork for identifying such gases by conducting a massive search for molecules with six or fewer non-hydrogen atoms. They describe how this exhaustive list of small molecules can help enhance our understanding of the limits of biochemistry on Earth.
"This work reminds me of Darwin's voyage aboard The Beagle, exploring the vast diversity of life by sailing around the world," says Nancy Y. Kiang, PhD, Senior Editor of Astrobiology and a scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "In the search for life beyond our planet, we are currently at a similarly exciting, early but rapidly evolving stage of exploration as the discovery of exoplanets accelerates. Instead of netting strange creatures from the bottom of the sea, the authors here have searched and found thousands of curious, potentially biogenic gas molecules. These will inspire a new body of research into identifying also larger molecules, investigating their origin and fate here, and their potential expression on exoplanets as signs of life."
About the Journal
Astrobiology, led by Editor-in-Chief Sherry L. Cady, a Chief Scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and a prominent international editorial board comprised of esteemed scientists in the field, is the authoritative peer-reviewed journal for the most up-to-date information and perspectives on exciting new research findings and discoveries emanating from interplanetary exploration and terrestrial field and laboratory research programs. The Journal is published monthly online with open access options and in print. Complete tables of content and a sample issue may be viewed on the Astrobiology website.
About the Publisher
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research, including New Space and High Altitude Medicine & Biology. Its biotechnology trade magazine, GEN (Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News), was the first in its field and is today the industry's most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm's 80 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available at the Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers website.