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 NASA's Fermi Telescope helps link cosmic neutrino to blazar blast
02.05.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht 2+1 is Not Always 3 - In the microworld unity is not always strength
02.05.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme

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: 2+1 is Not Always 3 - In the microworld unity is not always strength

If a person pushes a broken-down car alone, there is a certain effect. If another person helps, the result is the sum of their efforts. If two micro-particles are pushing another microparticle, however, the resulting effect may not necessarily be the sum their efforts. A recent study published in Nature Communications, measured this odd effect that scientists call “many body.”

In the microscopic world, where the modern miniaturized machines at the new frontiers of technology operate, as long as we are in the presence of two...

Im Focus: Tiny microbots that can clean up water

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute Stuttgart have developed self-propelled tiny ‘microbots’ that can remove lead or organic pollution from contaminated water.

Working with colleagues in Barcelona and Singapore, Samuel Sánchez’s group used graphene oxide to make their microscale motors, which are able to adsorb lead...

Im Focus: ORNL researchers discover new state of water molecule

Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of...

Im Focus: Bionic Lightweight Design researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute at Hannover Messe 2016

Honeycomb structures as the basic building block for industrial applications presented using holo pyramid

Researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) will introduce their latest developments in the field of bionic lightweight design at Hannover Messe from 25...

Im Focus: New world record for fullerene-free polymer solar cells

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). This work is about avoiding costly and unstable fullerenes.

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

The “AC21 International Forum 2016” is About to Begin

27.04.2016 | Event News

Soft switching combines efficiency and improved electro-magnetic compatibility

15.04.2016 | Event News

Grid-Supportive Buildings Give Boost to Renewable Energy Integration

12.04.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Identifying drug targets for leukaemia

02.05.2016 | Life Sciences

Clay nanotube-biopolymer composite scaffolds for tissue engineering

02.05.2016 | Materials Sciences

NASA's Fermi Telescope helps link cosmic neutrino to blazar blast

02.05.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>