Scientists have developed a new methods for detecting oxygen on exoplanets atmosphere which can accelerate the search for life.
A possible indication of life or biosignature is the presence of oxygen in the exoplanet’s atmosphere. Oxygen is produced from life on earth when organisms such as plants, algae and cyanobacteria convert sunlight into chemical energy using photosynthesis.
Because exoplanets orbit stars other than our sun, scientists cannot look for signs of life in this distant world. Instead, they must use sophisticated telescopes such as Webb to see what is in the atmosphere of the exoplanet.
Oxygen is one of the most interesting molecules because of its relationship with life, but we don’t know whether life is the only cause of oxygen in the atmosphere, researchers say.
When oxygen molecules collide with each other, they prevent portions of the infrared light spectrum from being seen by the telescope. By examining the models in this light, they can determine the planet’s atmospheric composition.
Some researchers have hypothesized that oxygen could also cause the extrasolar planet to become a host for life if not because it could accumulate in the planet’s atmosphere without vital activity.
If an extrasolar planet is too close to the host star or receives too much starlight, the atmosphere becomes very warm and saturated with water vapor from the ozone. This water can then be decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen atoms by strong ultraviolet radiation. Hydrogen, a light atom, escapes very easily into space and leaves oxygen.
Over time, this process can cause entire oceans to be destroyed more evenly than might occur throughout life when a dense oxygen atmosphere is formed. So much oxygen in the atmosphere of the exoplanet doesn’t have to mean a lot of life, but instead can have a history of water loss.
It is important to know whether and how many planets die that produce atmospheric oxygen so that we can better recognize when the planet is alive or not, say researchers. Launched in 2021, the web will become the world’s leading observatory in space science. This enables scientists to solve puzzles in our solar system, explore the distant world around other stars, and explore the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.