Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have compiled a comprehensive list of potential gases to guide search for life on exoplanets.
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Biosignature gases emitted by exoplanetary life forms could be detected remotely by space telescopes but these gases might have quite different compositions from those in the Earth's atmosphere.
“This work reminds me of Charles Darwin's voyage aboard 'The Beagle', exploring the vast diversity of life by sailing around the world," said Nancy Y Kiang, scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
“In the search for life beyond our planet, we are currently at a similarly exciting, early but rapidly evolving stage of exploration as the discovery of exoplanets accelerates,” he added.
Instead of netting strange creatures from the bottom of the sea, the authors searched and found thousands of curious, potentially biogenic gas molecules.
“These will inspire a new body of research into identifying also larger molecules, investigating their origin and fate here, and their potential expression on exoplanets as signs of life,” Kiang added.
This approach maximizes the chances of identifying planets orbiting nearby stars that support life.
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According to S Seager, W Bains and J.J. Petkowski from MIT and Rufus Scientific from the University of Cambridge in a paper published in the journal Astrobiology, all stable and potential volatile molecules should be considered as possible biosignature gases.