Are Stellar Storms the Key to Finding Alien Life?

Friday, 08 December 2017 - 12:31PM
Alien Life
Friday, 08 December 2017 - 12:31PM
Are Stellar Storms the Key to Finding Alien Life?
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Image credit: NASA
We just discovered a revolutionary technique for spotting alien life.

Watching for stars spitting into space might be an innovative new way to find extraterrestrial life, a group of researchers recently announced.
 
The magnetic activity of stars, when viewed in tandem with the atmospheric gases of the worlds that are in their orbit, may help us figure out which of these distant systems are strong candidates to harbor life.
 
"We propose to use the powerful emission from rotational-vibrational bands of nitric oxide, hydroxyl and molecular oxygen as signatures of nitrogen, oxygen, and water-rich atmospheres of terrestrial-type exoplanets highlighted' by the magnetic activity from young G and K main-sequence stars," wrote lead researcher and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center research associate Vladimir Airapetian.
 
"The signals from these fundamental chemical prerequisites of life we call atmospheric 'beacons of life' create a unique opportunity to perform direct imaging observations of Earth-sized exoplanets with high signal-to-noise and low spectral resolution with the upcoming NASA missions."
 
Researchers note the need to find the same kind of molecules Earth demonstrates.

"Molecular nitrogen is the dominant gas in the Earth's atmosphere, because of its geochemical stability. The high abundance of atmospheric N2 was critical for the initiation of life on the early Earth," as the "fixation of nitrogen" is key in the creation of such core life basics as DNA, RNA and proteins.
  
"We're in search of molecules formed from fundamental prerequisites of life—specifically molecular nitrogen, which is 78 percent of our atmospheres," Airapetian recently told Space.com.

"These are the basic molecules that are biologically friendly and have a strong infrared emitting power, increasing our chance of detecting them."
 
According to their study, ejections from stars can energize the atmospheres of their orbiting planets, interacting with atmospheric nitrogen, as well as such critical-to-life ingredients as oxygen and water, to jumpstart the chemical reactions that lead to the birth of life. If science can spot this occurring, it could be a solid marker for further investigation. 
 
"Taking what we know about infrared radiation emitted by Earth's atmosphere, the idea is to look at exoplanets and see what sort of signals we can detect," researcher Martin Mlynczak, a senior research scientist with NASA, told Space.com.

"If we find exoplanet signals in nearly the same proportion as Earth's, we could say that a planet is a good candidate for hosting life."

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Are Stellar Storms the Key to Finding Alien Life?
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