The Role of N2 as a Geo-Biosignature for the Detection and Characterization of Earth-like Habitats

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
April 29, 2019
Filed under
The Role of N2 as a Geo-Biosignature for the Detection and Characterization of Earth-like Habitats
Extrasolar planet

Since the Archean, N2 has been a major atmospheric constituent in Earth’s atmosphere.

Nitrogen is an essential element in the building blocks of life, therefore the geobiological nitrogen cycle is a fundamental factor in the long term evolution of both Earth and Earth-like exoplanets. We discuss the development of the Earth’s N2 atmosphere since the planet’s formation and its relation with the geobiological cycle.

Then we suggest atmospheric evolution scenarios and their possible interaction with life forms: firstly, for a stagnant-lid anoxic world, secondly for a tectonically active anoxic world, and thirdly for an oxidized tectonically active world. Furthermore, we discuss a possible demise of present Earth’s biosphere and its effects on the atmosphere. Since life forms are the most efficient means for recycling deposited nitrogen back into the atmosphere nowadays, they sustain its surface partial pressure at high levels.

Also, the simultaneous presence of significant N2 and O2 is chemically incompatible in an atmosphere over geological timescales. Thus, we argue that an N2-dominated atmosphere in combination with O2 on Earth-like planets within circumstellar habitable zones can be considered as a geo-biosignature. Terrestrial planets with such atmospheres will have an operating tectonic regime connected with an aerobe biosphere, whereas other scenarios in most cases end up with a CO2-dominated atmosphere. We conclude with implications for the search for life on Earth-like exoplanets inside the habitable zones of M to K-stars.

Helmut Lammer, Laurenz Sproß, John Lee Grenfell, Manuel Scherf, Luca Fossati, Monika Lendl, Patricio E. Cubillos
(Submitted on 26 Apr 2019)
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1904.11716 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1904.11716v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Laurenz Spross
[v1] Fri, 26 Apr 2019 08:37:19 UTC (1,785 KB)
Astrobiology, Astrochemistry

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