Some inconvenient truths about biosignatures involving two chemical species on Earth-like exoplanets

The detection of strong thermochemical disequilibrium in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet is thought to be a potential biosignature.

In this article we present a new kind of false positive that can mimic a disequilibrium or any other biosignature that involves two chemical species. We consider a scenario where the exoplanet hosts a moon that has its own atmosphere and neither of the atmospheres is in chemical disequilibrium. Our results show that the integrated spectrum of the planet and the moon closely resembles that of a single object in strong chemical disequilibrium.

We derive a firm limit on the maximum spectral resolution that can be obtained for both directly-imaged and transiting planets. The spectral resolution of even idealized space-based spectrographs that might be achievable in the next several decades is in general insufficient to break the degeneracy. Both chemical species can only be definitively confirmed in the same object if absorption features of both chemicals can be unambiguously identified and their combined depth exceeds 100%.

Hanno Rein, Yuka Fujii, David S. Spiegel (Submitted on 25 Apr 2014)

Comments: Accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 6 pages, 3 figures

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1401816111

Cite as: arXiv:1404.6531 [astro-ph.EP]

(or arXiv:1404.6531v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

Submission history From: Hanno Rein [v1] Fri, 25 Apr 2014 20:00:18 GMT (794kb,D)

Please follow Astrobiology on Twitter.


  • submit to reddit