Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

‘Dimer molecules’ aid study of exoplanet pressure, hunt for life

05.03.2014

Astronomers at the University of Washington have developed a new method of gauging the atmospheric pressure of exoplanets, or worlds beyond the solar system, by looking for a certain type of molecule.

And if there is life out in space, scientists may one day use this same technique to detect its biosignature — the telltale chemical signs of its presence — in the atmosphere of an alien world.


NASA

An artist’s concept of an exoplanet, or planet outside the solar system.

Understanding atmospheric pressure is key to knowing if conditions at the surface of a terrestrial, or rocky, exoplanet might allow liquid water, thus giving life a chance.

The method, devised by Amit Misra, a UW astronomy doctoral student, and co-authors, involves computer simulations of the chemistry of Earth’s own atmosphere that isolate what are called “dimer molecules” — pairs of molecules that tend to form at high pressures and densities in a planet’s atmosphere. There are many types of dimer molecules but this research focused only on those of oxygen. Misra is first author of the paper was published in the February issue of the journal Astrobiology.

The researchers ran simulations testing the spectrum of light in various wavelengths. Dimer molecules absorb light in a distinctive pattern, and the rate at which they form is sensitive to the pressure, or density, in the planet’s atmosphere.

“So the idea is that if we were able to do this for another planet, we could look for this characteristic pattern of absorption from dimer molecules to identify them,” Misra said. The presence of such molecules, he said, likely means the planet has at least one-quarter to one-third the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere.

Powerful telescopes soon to come online, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, may enable astronomers to use this method on distant exoplanets. With such enhanced tools, Misra said, astronomers might detect dimer molecules in actual exoplanet atmospheres, leading to a clear understanding of the planet’s atmosphere.

This research may also play a part in the greatest astronomical quest of all — the ongoing search for life in the cosmos.

That’s because the team realized along the way that oxygen dimer molecules are often more detectable in an atmosphere than other markers of oxygen. That’s important from a biological standpoint, Misra said.

“It’s tied to photosynthesis, and we have pretty good evidence that it’s hard to get a lot of oxygen in an atmosphere unless you have algae or plants that are producing it at a regular rate.

“So if we find a good target planet, and you could detect these dimer molecules — which might be possible within the next 10 to 15 years — that would not only tell you something about pressure, but actually tell you that there’s life on that planet.”

Misra’s UW co-author is Victoria Meadows, professor of astronomy; other co-authors are Mark Claire of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews and Dave Crisp of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The research was performed through the UW-based Virtual Planetary Laboratory and funded by NASA (Grant NNH05ZDA001C), as well as a grant from Advancing Science in America, Seattle chapter.

###

For more information, contact Misra at 440-554-6514 or amit0@uw.edu

Peter Kelley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

Further reports about: Space Telescope astronomy atmosphere conditions pressure spectrum

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Interstellar seeds could create oases of life
28.08.2015 | Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

nachricht Draw out of the predicted interatomic force
28.08.2015 | Hiroshima University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Increasingly severe disturbances weaken world's temperate forests

Longer, more severe, and hotter droughts and a myriad of other threats, including diseases and more extensive and severe wildfires, are threatening to transform some of the world's temperate forests, a new study published in Science has found. Without informed management, some forests could convert to shrublands or grasslands within the coming decades.

"While we have been trying to manage for resilience of 20th century conditions, we realize now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease...

Im Focus: OU astrophysicist and collaborators find supermassive black holes in quasar nearest Earth

A University of Oklahoma astrophysicist and his Chinese collaborator have found two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth, using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The discovery of two supermassive black holes--one larger one and a second, smaller one--are evidence of a binary black hole and suggests that supermassive...

Im Focus: What would a tsunami in the Mediterranean look like?

A team of European researchers have developed a model to simulate the impact of tsunamis generated by earthquakes and applied it to the Eastern Mediterranean. The results show how tsunami waves could hit and inundate coastal areas in southern Italy and Greece. The study is published today (27 August) in Ocean Science, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Though not as frequent as in the Pacific and Indian oceans, tsunamis also occur in the Mediterranean, mainly due to earthquakes generated when the African...

Im Focus: Self-healing landscape: landslides after earthquake

In mountainous regions earthquakes often cause strong landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy rain. However, after an initial increase, the frequency of these mass wasting events, often enormous and dangerous, declines, in fact independently of meteorological events and aftershocks.

These new findings are presented by a German-Franco-Japanese team of geoscientists in the current issue of the journal Geology, under the lead of the GFZ...

Im Focus: FIC Proteins Send Bacteria Into Hibernation

Bacteria do not cease to amaze us with their survival strategies. A research team from the University of Basel's Biozentrum has now discovered how bacteria enter a sleep mode using a so-called FIC toxin. In the current issue of “Cell Reports”, the scientists describe the mechanism of action and also explain why their discovery provides new insights into the evolution of pathogens.

For many poisons there are antidotes which neutralize their toxic effect. Toxin-antitoxin systems in bacteria work in a similar manner: As long as a cell...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Networking conference in Heidelberg for outstanding mathematicians and computer scientists

20.08.2015 | Event News

Scientists meet in Münster for the world’s largest Chitin und Chitosan Conference

20.08.2015 | Event News

Large agribusiness management strategies

19.08.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Production research by Fraunhofer IAO honored with three awards at the ICPR 2015

31.08.2015 | Awards Funding

Single-Crystal Phosphors Suitable for Ultra-Bright, High-Power White Light Sources

31.08.2015 | Materials Sciences

Manchester Team Reveal New, Stable 2D Materials

31.08.2015 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>