A group of scientists from UC Riverside claimed that the famous laughing gaswhich contains nitrous oxide, would be a chemical compound that could indicate life in exoplanets In training.
This gas is a biosignature, gases that are found in abundance in Earth’s atmosphere today, and that could be present in planets in formation, according to a Article published in the AstrophysicalJournal.
“There has been a lot of thought about oxygen and methane as biosignatures. Fewer researchers have seriously considered nitrous oxide, but we think it may be a mistake,” said Eddie Schwieterman, an astrobiologist in the UCR Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Schwieterman led a team of researchers who determined how much nitrous oxide living things on an Earth-like planet could produce. They then modeled that planet around different types of stars and determined amounts of N2O that could be detected by an observatory such as the James Webb Space Telescope.
“In a star system like TRAPPIST-1, the closest and best system for observing the atmospheres of rocky planets, you could potentially detect nitrous oxide at levels comparable to CO2 or methane,” Schwieterman said.
“Life generates nitrogen waste products that are converted by some microorganisms into nitrates. In a fish tank, these nitrates build up, so you have to change the water,” Schwieterman said.
“However, under the right conditions in the ocean, certain bacteria can convert those nitrates to N2O,” Schwieterman said. “The gas then leaks into the atmosphere.”
“This conclusion does not take into account periods in Earth’s history when ocean conditions would have allowed a much larger biological release of N2O. Conditions in those periods could reflect where an exoplanet is today,” Schwieterman said.