Sunday, January 17th, 2021

‘Biosignature’ Study Could Help Astronomers Detect Alien Life on Other Planets

Published on March 3, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

A NASA illustration of Kepler 62E, located about 1,200 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Lyra. ©


The search for aliens in faraway worlds could be made easier, with new research determining a way to establish the difference between life and the illusion of life. The study focuses on the importance of ‘biosignatures’ in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

Researchers from the University of Washington believe the evidence of oxygen – a biosignature – is key in the search for life outside our solar system.

But just because a planet has oxygen does not mean life is sustainable or present there. For example, Venus contains both oxygen and carbon dioxide, but its atmosphere is too hot and acidic to sustain life – so the oxygen is a ‘false positive.’

Ruling out such false positives is essential for scientists searching for life, and the researchers claim they have a found a way to do so easily. That process hinges on the process of spectroscopy, the study of spectral features of light visible through a planet’s atmosphere when it transits or passes in front of its host star.

“We wanted to determine if there was something we could observe that gave away these ‘false positive’ cases among exoplanets,” lead author Edward Schwieterman, a doctoral student in astronomy, said in a statement“We call them ‘biosignature impostors’ in the paper.

“The potential discovery of life beyond our solar system is of such a huge magnitude and consequence, we really need to be sure we’ve got it right – that when we interpret the light from these exoplanets we know exactly what we’re looking for, and what could fool us,” Schwieterman continued.

Previous research has found that some worlds can create oxygen ‘abiotically,’ or by non-living means. This is most likely in the case of planets orbiting low-mass stars, which are smaller and dimmer than our sun and the most common in the universe.

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