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  • Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration  (3)
  • 1
    Publication Date: 2019-07-12
    Description: For the first time in human history, we will soon be able to apply to the scientific method to the question "Are We Alone?" The rapid advance of exoplanet discovery, planetary systems science, and telescope technology will soon allow scientists to search for life beyond our Solar System through direct observation of extrasolar planets. This endeavor will occur alongside searches for habitable environments and signs of life within our Solar System. While these searches are thematically related and will inform each other, they will require separate observational techniques. The search for life on exoplanets holds potential through the great diversity of worlds to be explored beyond our Solar System. However, there are also unique challenges related to the relatively limited data this search will obtain on any individual world.
    Keywords: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN52771
    Format: application/pdf
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  • 2
    Publication Date: 2019-07-13
    Description: Some atmospheric gases have been proposed as counter indicators to the presence of life on an exoplanet if remotely detectable at sufficient abundance (i.e., antibiosignatures), informing the search for biosignatures and potentially fingerprinting uninhabited habitats. However, the quantitative extent to which putative antibiosignatures could exist in the atmospheres of inhabited planets is not well understood. The most commonly referenced potential antibiosignature is CO, because it represents a source of free energy and reduced carbon that is readily exploited by life on Earth and is thus often assumed to accumulate only in the absence of life. Yet, biospheres actively produce CO through biomass burning, photooxidation processes, and release of gases that are photochemically converted into CO in the atmosphere. We demonstrate with a 1D ecosphere-atmosphere model that reducing biospheres can maintain CO levels of approximately 100 ppmv (parts per million by volume) even at low H2 fluxes due to the impact of hybrid photosynthetic ecosystems. Additionally, we show that photochemistry around M dwarf stars is particularly favorable for the buildup of CO, with plausible concentrations for inhabited, oxygen-rich planets extending from hundreds of ppm to several percent. Since CH4 buildup is also favored on these worlds, and because O2 and O3 are likely not detectable with the James Webb Space Telescope, the presence of high CO (greater than 100 ppmv) may discriminate between oxygen-rich and reducing biospheres with near-future transmission observations. These results suggest that spectroscopic detection of CO can be compatible with the presence of life and that a comprehensive contextual assessment is required to validate the significance of potential antibiosignatures.
    Keywords: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN66978 , The Astrophysical Journal (ISSN 2041-8205) (e-ISSN 2041-8213); 874; 1; 9
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  • 3
    Publication Date: 2019-06-29
    Description: The habitable zone (HZ) is commonly defined as the range of distances from a host star within which liquid water, a key requirement for life, may exist on a planet's surface. Substantially more CO2 than present in Earth's modern atmosphere is required to maintain clement temperatures for most of the HZ, with several bars required at the outer edge. However, most complex aerobic life on Earth is limited by CO2 concentrations of just fractions of a bar. At the same time, most exoplanets in the traditional HZ reside in proximity to M dwarfs, which are more numerous than Sun-like G dwarfs but are predicted to promote greater abundances of gases that can be toxic in the atmospheres of orbiting planets, such as carbon monoxide (CO). Here we show that the HZ for complex aerobic life is likely limited relative to that for microbial life. We use a 1D radiative-convective climate and photochemical models to circumscribe a Habitable Zone for Complex Life (HZCL) based on known toxicity limits for a range of organisms as a proof of concept. We find that for CO2 tolerances of 0.01, 0.1, and 1 bar, the HZCL is only 21%, 32%, and 50% as wide as the conventional HZ for a Sun-like star, and that CO concentrations may limit some complex life throughout the entire HZ of the coolest M dwarfs. These results cast new light on the likely distribution of complex life in the universe and have important ramifications for the search for exoplanet biosignatures and technosignatures.
    Keywords: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN70116 , The Astrophysical Journal (ISSN 0004-637X) (e-ISSN 1538-4357); 878; 1; 19
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