The presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is not always reliable. It is methane, which can send a stronger signal,
The atmosphere of modern Earth contains about 21%oxygen, and most of it comes from organisms in the oceans of the planet. But there is a catch: once cyanobacteria on ancient Earth began to produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, it still took a very long time before the atmosphere became saturated with oxygen. Perhaps a billion years.
Rocky exoplanets have manyoxygen scavengers, and biologically produced gas will not be free in the atmosphere until these scavengers become saturated. This can take millions of years. And researchers can simply miss an exoplanet with life if they focus on the presence of oxygen.
Planetary scientists decided to focus onsearch for other signatures in the atmospheres of the planets. For example, methane (CH₄). In a new article, the researchers examined methane's ability to signal biological activity. Scientists argue that the methane in the planet's atmosphere is unlikely to come from volcanoes and is most likely of biological origin. The results are published The Planetary Science Journal.
Of course, detect potential biosignatures,such as methane, in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets is not easy. But as soon as something like methane is found, even more hard work lies ahead. Its presence must be examined in the context of the planet itself. Now scientists are trying to come up with a way to detect biosignatures using a telescope.
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