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Alien life can exist without oxygen: Study

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nasa-cosmos-6 By NewsGram Staff Writer

Oxygen is one of the essential criterions for life to exist. Or so has been thought till date.

Now, a Japanese researcher has dispelled that notion by presenting a novel hypothesis arguing that it could be possible for far-off planets to hold huge quantities of abiotic or non-biologically produced oxygen.

Norito Narita, assistant professor at the Astrobiology Center of National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS), has brought to light the possibility of production of abiotic oxygen through the photocatalytic reaction of titanium oxide, known to be abundant on distant planets and the moon.

According to Narita, “To search for life on extrasolar planets through astronomical observation, we need to combine the knowledge from various scientific fields and promote astrobiological researches to establish the decisive signs of life.”

Narita also argues the necessity of looking for new biomarkers besides oxygen from the present result, although oxygen still stands as one of possible biomarkers.

On Earth, plants continuously produce oxygen through photosynthesis.

Therefore, if a planet has an environment similar to the Sun-Earth system, a continuous photocatalytic reaction of titanium oxide on about 0.05 percent of the planet’s surface could enable it to produce the amount of oxygen found in the Earth’s current atmosphere.

The team also estimated the amount of possible oxygen production for habitable planets around other types of host stars with various masses and temperatures.

Another remarkable finding was the discovery that even in a least efficient production case of a low-temperature star, the photocatalytic reaction of titanium oxide on about 3 percent of the planetary surface could maintain this level of atmospheric oxygen through abiotic processes.

The author also noted that it was possible for a habitable extrasolar planet to maintain an atmosphere with Earth-like oxygen, even without organisms present to perform photosynthesis.

The paper, which appeared in the Scientific Reports journal, is a good example of an inter-disciplinary study which combines knowledge from different fields of science and promote astrobiology in the search for life on extra-solar planets.

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Scientists Develop New Method to Detect Oxygen on Exoplanet Atmospheres

New method to detect oxygen on exoplanets developed

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Scientists have developed a new method for detecting oxygen in exoplanet atmospheres. Pixabay

In a bid to accelerate the search for life in outer space, scientists have developed a new method for detecting oxygen in exoplanet atmospheres.

The team at University of California Riverside developed the new technique, which will use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to detect a strong signal that O² molecules produce when they collide.

This signal could help scientists distinguish between living and nonliving planets.

Since exoplanets, which orbit stars other than our sun, are so far away, scientists cannot look for signs of life by visiting these distant worlds.

Instead, they must use a cutting-edge telescope like Webb to see what’s inside the atmospheres of exoplanets.

Oxygen molecule
This technique will allow us to find oxygen molecules in planets both living and dead. (Representational Image). Pixabay

“Before our work, O² at similar levels as on Earth was thought to be undetectable with Webb,” said Thomas Fauchez of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study.

“This oxygen signal is known since the early 1980s from Earth’s atmospheric studies but has never been studied for exoplanet research,” he added in the journal Nature Astronomy.

When oxygen molecules collide with each other, they block parts of the infrared light spectrum from being seen by a telescope. By examining patterns in that light, scientists can detect the composition of the planet’s atmosphere.

UC Riverside astrobiologist Edward Schwieterman originally proposed a similar way of detecting high concentrations of oxygen from nonliving processes and was a member of the team that developed this technique.

“This technique will allow us to find O² in planets both living and dead,” Schwieterman said.

Schwieterman helped the NASA team calculate how much light would be blocked by these oxygen collisions.

If an exoplanet is too close to its host star or receives too much star light, the atmosphere becomes very warm and saturated with water vapour from evaporating oceans.

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Over time, this process may cause entire oceans to be lost while building up a thick oxygen atmosphere — more even, than could be made by life.

“So, abundant O² in an exoplanet’s atmosphere may not necessarily mean abundant life but may instead indicate a history of water loss,” the authors wrote. (IANS)