Origin & Evolution of Life

Implications of Abiotic Oxygen Buildup for Earth-like Complex Life

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
February 10, 2020
Filed under
Implications of Abiotic Oxygen Buildup for Earth-like Complex Life

One of the chief paradoxes of molecular oxygen (O2) is that it is an essential requirement for multicellular eukaryotes on Earth while simultaneously posing a threat to their survival via the formation of reactive oxygen species.

In this paper, the constraints imposed by O2 on Earth-like complex life are invoked to explore whether worlds with abiotic O2 inventories can harbor such organisms. By taking the major O2 sources and sinks of Earth-like planets into account using a simple model, it is suggested that worlds that receive X-ray and extreme ultraviolet fluxes that are ≳10 times higher than Earth might not be capable of hosting complex lifeforms because the photolysis of molecules such as water may lead to significant O2 buildup.

Methods for testing this hypothesis by searching for anticorrelations between biosignatures and indicators of abiotic O2 atmospheres are described. In the event, however, that life successfully adapts to high-oxygen environments, these worlds could permit the evolution of large and complex organisms.

Manasvi Lingam
(Submitted on 8 Feb 2020)

Comments: Accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal; 9 pages; 2 figures
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR); Populations and Evolution (q-bio.PE)
Cite as: arXiv:2002.03248 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2002.03248v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Manasvi Lingam
[v1] Sat, 8 Feb 2020 23:19:11 UTC (228 KB)

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) 🖖🏻