April 19, 2024

Discovery of Laughing Gas in Space Could Mean Alien Life

It is possible the atmosphere could include nitrous oxide, which may suggest life. It can be something like a leaf or a plume, however might likewise be fossils kept away in the rocks, organic particles made by life, and even distinctions in the chemistry of an atmosphere or a body of water. Chemical biosignatures consist of a big variety of possible ways that life can leave its mark within the chemistry of rocks, bodies of water, and even environments.

This conclusion, and the modeling work that led to it, are detailed in a short article released in the Astrophysical Journal on October 4, 2022.

Nitrous oxide is a constituent of Earths atmosphere that provides proof of life. Under particular scenarios, nitrous oxide could be spotted in an atmosphere and still not show life.

The TRAPPIST-1 system, where we may soon have more details about the atmospheres of rocky, Earth-like worlds from the James Webb Space Telescope. It is possible the atmosphere could consist of nitrous oxide, which may suggest life. Credit: NASA and JPL/Caltech
Exoplanet hunters need to look for nitrous oxide– a possible biosignature.
Something is missing from the common lineup of chemicals that astrobiologists use to search for life on worlds around other stars, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). Particularly, laughing gas, also understood as laughing gas (N2O).
Called chemical biosignatures, substances in a worlds atmosphere that might indicate life generally consist of gases found in abundance in Earths environment today.
The very same nitrous oxide gas utilized for basic anesthesia, sedation, and discomfort treatment could make a viable biosignature gas.
” Theres been a great deal of idea put into oxygen and methane as biosignatures. Less researchers have seriously considered nitrous oxide, however we think that might be an error,” stated Eddie Schwieterman, an astrobiologist in UCRs Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

To reach this conclusion, Schwieterman led a group of researchers that determined how much laughing gas living things on a world comparable to Earth might possibly produce. After that, they built models imitating that world around different kinds of stars and determined the amounts of N2O that might be spotted by an observatory like the James Webb Space Telescope.
” In a star system like TRAPPIST-1, the nearby and finest system to observe the environments of rocky planets, you might potentially find laughing gas at levels similar to CO2 or methane,” Schwieterman said.
There are numerous manner ins which living things can produce laughing gas. For example, microbes are continuously changing other nitrogen compounds into N2O, a metabolic procedure that can yield beneficial cellular energy.
” Life generates nitrogen waste products that are converted by some microorganisms into nitrates. In a fish tank, these nitrates build-up, which is why you have to change the water,” Schwieterman said.
” However, under the ideal conditions in the ocean, particular germs can transform those nitrates into N2O,” Schwieterman stated. “The gas then leaks into the atmosphere.”
Laughing gas is a constituent of Earths environment that provides evidence of life. This image is a view of Earth from the moon that was captured by NASAs Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
Under certain situations, nitrous oxide might be identified in an environment and still not indicate life. A small quantity of nitrous oxide is produced by lightning.
Other astrobiologists who have thought about laughing gas as a biosignature gas typically conclude it would be hard to find from so far away. Schwieterman explained that this conclusion is based on N2O concentrations in Earths environment today. Due to the fact that there isnt quite of it on this planet, which is bursting with life, some people think it would also be tough to identify somewhere else.
” This conclusion does not account for periods in Earths history where ocean conditions would have permitted much greater biological release of N2O. Conditions in those durations may mirror where an exoplanet is today,” Schwieterman said.
The James Webb Space Telescope might soon send out information about the atmospheres of planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Credit: Northrup Grumman
Schwieterman included that typical stars like K and M dwarfs produce a light spectrum that is less effective at separating the N2O molecule than our sun is. These two results combined could considerably increase the anticipated amount of this biosignature gas on an inhabited world, which would make it a lot easier to spot.
According to the team of scientists, now is the time for astrobiologists to think about alternative biosignature gases like nitrous oxide since the James Webb telescope may quickly be sending out information about the atmospheres of rocky, Earth-like planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
” We wished to put this concept forward to reveal its not out of the question we d find this biosignature gas, if we look for it,” Schwieterman stated.
Reference: “Evaluating the Plausible Range of N2O Biosignatures on Exo-Earths: An Integrated Biogeochemical, Photochemical, and Spectral Modeling Approach” by Edward W. Schwieterman, Stephanie L. Olson, Daria Pidhorodetska, Christopher T. Reinhard, Ainsley Ganti, Thomas J. Fauchez, Sandra T. Bastelberger, Jaime S. Crouse, Andy Ridgwell and Timothy W. Lyons, 4 October 2022, The Astrophysical Journal.DOI: 10.3847/ 1538-4357/ ac8cfb.
The research team consisted of UCR astrobiologists Daria Pidhorodetska, Andy Ridgwell, and Timothy Lyons, along with researchers from Purdue University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, American University, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

A biosignature is any characteristic, component, molecule, substance, or feature that can be used as evidence for past or present life. It can be something like a plume or a leaf, but might also be fossils kept away in the rocks, organic particles made by life, and even distinctions in the chemistry of an environment or a body of water. Chemical biosignatures include a huge variety of possible methods that life can leave its mark within the chemistry of rocks, bodies of water, and even atmospheres.