Tuesday, November 29

Could broccoli be the key to extraterrestrial life? | Digital Trends Spanish

Broccoli, along with many other plants and microorganisms, give off gases to help them expel toxins. Scientists believe that these gases could provide convincing evidence of life on other planets. One of them is methyl bromide.

These types of gases are produced when organisms add one carbon and three hydrogen atoms to an undesirable chemical element. This process, called methylation, can convert potential toxins into gases that float safely into the atmosphere. If these gases were detected in the atmosphere of another planet using telescopes, they would suggest life somewhere on that planet.

“Methylation is so widespread on Earth that we expect life elsewhere to perform it,” said Michaela Leung, a planetary scientist at UCR. “Most cells have mechanisms to expel harmful substances.”

One methylated gas, methyl bromide, has several advantages over other gases traditionally targeted in the search for life outside our solar system. Leung led a study, now published in the Astrophysical Journalwhich explored and quantified these advantages.

For one thing, methyl bromide stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time than traditional biosignature gases.

“If you find it, the odds are good that it was made not too long ago, and that whatever made it is still producing it,” Leung said.

The study determined that methyl bromide would be more easily detectable around an M dwarf star than in this solar system or similar ones. M dwarfs are smaller and cooler than our sun, and they produce less of the kind of UV radiation that leads to water breaking.

“An M dwarf host star increases the concentration and detectability of methyl bromide by four orders of magnitude compared to the sun,” Leung said.

This is a boon to astronomers, because M dwarfs are more than 10 times more common than stars like our sun and will be prime targets in upcoming searches for life on exoplanets.

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