Data from the Cassini-Huygens satellite showing oxygen ions in the atmosphere around Saturns rings suggests once again that molecular oxygen alone isnt a reliable indicator of whether a planet can support life.
That and other data are outlined in two papers in the Feb. 25 issue of the journal Science co-authored by University of Michigan engineering professors Tamas Gombosi, J. Hunter Waite and Kenneth Hansen; and T.E. Cravens from the University of Kansas. The papers belong to a series of publications on data collected by Cassini as it passed through the rings of Saturn on July 1.
Molecular oxygen forms when two oxygen atoms bond together and is known in chemical shorthand as O2. On Earth, it is a continual byproduct of plant respiration, and animals need this oxygen for life. But in Saturns atmosphere, molecular oxygen was created without life present, through a chemical reaction with the suns radiation and icy particles that comprise Saturns rings. "That means you dont need biology to produce an O2 atmosphere," Waite said. "If we want indicators to use in the search for life on other planets, we need to know what to look for. But oxygen alone isnt it."
Mary Nehls-Frumkin | EurekAlert!
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