Monday, May 23

Finding of methane would show signs of extraterrestrial life | Digital Trends Spanish

Scientists from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) stated that biological activity is the main source of methane in the atmosphere. In this way, the presence of this colorless and odorless gas on a rocky planet would be the first indication of extraterrestrial life.

Methane, the team of experts posited, is one of the few potential signs of life or “biosignals” easily detectable with the James Webb Space Telescope. Hence the validity of their estimates, considering that the observations start at the end of 2022.

“We wanted to provide a framework for interpreting the observations, so that if we see a rocky planet with methane, we know what other observations are needed to make it a convincing biosignal,” explained astronomy and astrophysics graduate student Maggie Thompson, who is the Lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The UCSC emphasized that this is the first “updated and specific evaluation of the planetary conditions necessary for methane to be a good biosignal,” since the gas also originates from non-biological processes.

The agency added that the study examines a number of non-biological sources of methane and assesses their potential to maintain an atmosphere rich in the element. These include volcanoes, reactions in environments such as mid-ocean ridges, hydrothermal vents, and tectonic subduction zones, as well as comet or asteroid impacts.

“The arguments in favor of methane as a biosignal are based on its instability in the atmosphere. Since photochemical reactions destroy atmospheric methane, it must be constantly replenished to maintain high levels,” they explained from UCSC.

Study co-author Joshua Krissansen-Totton, a Sagan fellow, elaborated: “If a large amount of methane is detected on a rocky planet, a magnitude source is usually needed to explain it. We know that biological activity creates large amounts of methane on Earth, and it probably did on early Earth as well, because making methane is a pretty easy thing to do metabolically.”

However, he complemented in a Press release At UCSC, nonbiological sources couldn’t produce as much methane without also generating observable clues about its origins. For example, vents from volcanoes would add both methane and carbon monoxide to the atmosphere, while biological activity tends to easily consume the latter.

The researchers found that non-biological processes cannot easily produce habitable planet atmospheres rich in methane and carbon dioxide and with little or no carbon monoxide.

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