Habitable Worlds With No Signs of Life

'Most habitable worlds in the cosmos will have no remotely detectable signs of life' is proposed as a biological hypothesis to be tested in studies of exoplanets. Habitable planets could be discovered elsewhere in the Universe, yet there are many hypothetical scenarios whereby the search for life on them could yield negative results.

Scenarios for habitable worlds with no remotely detectable signatures of life include: planets that are habitable, but have no biosphere (Uninhabited Habitable Worlds); planets with life, but lacking any detectable surface signatures of that life (laboratory examples are provided) and planets with life, where the concentration of atmospheric gases produced or removed by biota are impossible to disentangle from abiotic processes because of the lack of detailed knowledge of planetary conditions (the 'problem of exoplanet thermodynamic uncertainty').

A rejection of the hypothesis would require that the origin of life usually occurs on habitable planets, that spectrally detectable pigments and/or metabolisms that produce unequivocal biosignature gases (e.g. oxygenic photosynthesis) usually evolve and that the organisms that harbour them usually achieve a sufficient biomass to produce biosignatures detectable to alien astronomers.

Charles S Cockell (Submitted on 3 Sep 2013)

Comments: 29 page, 3 figures, 1 table, accepted for publication in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (Exoplanet discussion meeting)

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

Cite as: arXiv:1309.0763 [astro-ph.EP]

(or arXiv:1309.0763v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version) Submission history From: Charles Cockell [v1] Tue, 3 Sep 2013 18:11:56 GMT (583kb)

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