At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, astronomer Sara Seager has begun to examine 14,000 compounds that are stable enough to exist in a planetary atmosphere. She and her colleagues are winnowing down their initial list of molecules using criteria such as whether there are geophysical ways to send the compound into the atmosphere.
“We’re doing a triage process,” says Seager. “We don’t want to miss anything.”
The Seattle meeting aims to compile a working list of biosignature gases and their chemical properties. The information will feed into how astronomers analyse data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, slated for launch in 2018. The telescope will be able to look at only a handful of habitable planets, but it will provide the first detailed glimpse of what gases surround which world, says Nikole Lewis, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
No single gas is likely to be a slam-dunk indicator of alien life. More.
Well no, no single gas is at all likely to be a slam-dunk indicator of alien life. For one thing, anyone can claim that alien life might operate differently from life on Earth and many people do. It’s still fun and we might learn something. See also: Was life found on Mars 40 years ago? Note Rob Sheldon’s comment here. and How do we grapple with the idea that ET might not be out there? and Follow UD News at Twitter!