Atmospheres & Climate

Transient Sulfate Aerosols as a Signature of Exoplanet Volcanism

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
April 28, 2015
Filed under ,
Transient Sulfate Aerosols as a Signature of Exoplanet Volcanism

Geological activity is thought to be important for the origin of life and for maintaining planetary habitability. We show that transient sulfate aerosols could be a signature of exoplanet volcanism, and therefore a geologically active world.

A detection of transient aerosols, if linked to volcanism, could thus aid in habitability evaluations of the exoplanet. On Earth, subduction-induced explosive eruptions inject SO2 directly into the stratosphere, leading to the formation of sulfate aerosols with lifetimes of months to years.

We demonstrate that the rapid increase and gradual decrease in sulfate aerosol loading associated with these eruptions may be detectable in transit transmission spectra with future large-aperture telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and European Extremely-Large Telescope (E-ELT) for a planetary system at a distance of 10 pc, assuming an Earth-like atmosphere, bulk composition, and size. Specifically, we find that a S/N of 12.1 and 7.1 could be achieved with E-ELT (assuming photon-limited noise) for an Earth-analog orbiting a Sun-like star and M5V star, respectively, even without multiple transits binned together.

We propose that the detection of this transient signal would strongly suggest an exoplanet volcanic eruption, if potential false positives such as dust storms or bolide impacts can be ruled out. Furthermore, because scenarios exist in which O2 can form abiotically in the absence of volcanic activity, a detection of transient aerosols that can be linked to volcanism, along with a detection of O2, would be a more robust biosignature than O2 alone.

Amit Misra, Joshua Krissansen-Totton, Matthew C. Koehler, Steven Sholes
(Submitted on 17 Apr 2015)
Comments: 69 pages, 4 figures, Accepted to Astrobiology 4/10/2015
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1504.04629 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1504.04629v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Amit Misra
[v1] Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:11:28 GMT (630kb)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻