Scientists Have Recreated Alien Environments Here on Earth

Friday, 09 March 2018 - 6:45PM
Space
Astrophysics
Friday, 09 March 2018 - 6:45PM
Scientists Have Recreated Alien Environments Here on Earth
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NASA
Have you ever wanted to stand on the surface of Saturn and breathe a deep lungful of alien air?

If so, you're going to have a bad time, as Saturn doesn't have a solid surface. But you can do the next best thing, as scientists have found a way to simulate Saturn's hazy environment right here on Earth. You'll still have a bad time, as Saturn's environment is toxic, but at least you won't also sink through the floor.

A team of scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have managed to recreate the atmosphere of nine alien worlds in a laboratory setting, taking a mixture of various gases including hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor, and exposing them to a cold plasma discharge. This led to the creation of hazes that matched up with modeled environments from distant planets, based on simulations created by scientists.



Haze is a common phenomenon in many planets that scientists have observed, as it's created by particles, often minerals, that are dispersed in the air. While the primary goal behind this study was to test the environment on alien worlds, it can't be ignored that we're learning about what the atmospheres of these planets actually look like as well.

The results were pretty to say the least, with one haze producing a purplish "atmosphere" while another created a distinctly olive green color. Apparently, the view from these planets would be very colorful, provided that the haze wasn't too thick.




On Saturn, for example, it seems that its thick haze is part of the reason why the planet doesn't glow as bright as its larger neighbor, Jupiter. There are too many particles in the air that refract light, thus dulling the overall appearance of the planet as a whole. Much as how Earth would look brighter and more visually stunning if it wasn't wrapped in clouds, the haze on Saturn keeps the ringed planet from looking too bright and colorful.

According to lead scientist Dr Sarah Hörst, studying these environments could help us to better understand what a planet looks like when it plays host to life forms. She said the following to BBC News:

Opening quote
"We're really excited to figure out where particles form, what they're made out of, and what that means for organic inventories for the origin of life. I think we are going to learn a lot about [our] Solar System from doing these experiments. We don't want to learn about just one planet; we want to learn how planets work."
Closing quote


While the experiment hasn't produced a smoking gun proof of alien life just yet (not that anyone was expecting it to), these tests certainly have helped us to discover what different parts of our own solar system must be like. Simulating the distant moon of Titan, for example, will likely prove worthwhile, as many scientists hold out hope that we might find alien life on the moon, and it's interesting to see what kind of environment these creatures might be living in if they really do exist.

It may not be a good idea to breathe in any of the alien gas simulations that have been created as part of this experiment. But some creatures, somewhere in the solar system, might be taking deep breaths of this unfamiliar gaseous concoction.
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