Habitable Zones & Global Climate

Testing Earth-like Atmospheric Evolution On Exo-Earths Through Oxygen Absorption

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
May 5, 2020
Filed under
Testing Earth-like Atmospheric Evolution On Exo-Earths Through Oxygen Absorption
The number of EECs as a function of flife which must be characterized to confidently (p = 0.05) detect a correlation between their ages and the fraction with O2 or O3 in their atmospheres. Results are plotted for each of the cases detailed in Figure 1 and a target sample with a uniform distribution of ages between 0 – 10 Gyr. The dashed lines indicate “pessimistic” and “optimistic” cases for the frequency of inhabited worlds among EECs. On the right, we include estimates for the EEC detection yield of a few possible future observatories reviewed in Section 4.1. Note, however, that these estimates were calculated using different methods, and the occurrence rates used to determine them may have been overestimated (Pascucci et al. 2019)

Life has had a dramatic impact on the composition of Earth’s atmosphere over time, which suggests that statistical studies of other inhabited planets’ atmospheres could reveal how they co-evolve with life.

While many evolutionary pathways are possible for inhabited worlds, a possible starting hypothesis is that most of them evolve similarly to Earth, which we propose could lead to a positive “age-oxygen correlation” between the ages of inhabited planets and the fraction which have oxygen-rich atmospheres. We demonstrate that next-generation space observatories currently under consideration could test this hypothesis, but only if the stellar age distribution of the target sample is carefully considered.

We explore three possible parameterizations of the age-oxygen correlation, finding that they yield similar results. Finally, we examine how abiotic oxygen sources could affect the results, and discuss how measuring the age-dependence of oxygen could shed light on whether it is a reliable biosignature. Future efforts can expand upon this groundwork by incorporating detailed models of the redox balance of terrestrial planets and its dependence on stellar and planetary properties.

Testing Earth-like Atmospheric evolution on exo-Earths through oxygen absorption: required sample sizes and the advantage of age-based target selection

Alex Bixel, Dániel Apai
Comments: 13 pages, 3 figures, accepted to ApJ
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)
Cite as: arXiv:2005.01587 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2005.01587v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Alex Bixel
[v1] Mon, 4 May 2020 15:57:46 UTC (237 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) 🖖🏻