Why This Poisonous Gas Could Be a Sign of Alien Life

Space.com | 3/21/2019 | Mike Wall
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Scientists hunting for signs of alien life shouldn't be so quick to dismiss carbon monoxide (CO), a new study suggests.

The substance is highly poisonous to people and most other animal life here on Earth because it latches firmly onto hemoglobin, preventing this blood protein from carrying vital oxygen in the required quantities.

Gas - Promising - Biosignature - Search - ET

And the gas hasn't typically rated as a promising "biosignature" that astrobiologists should target in the search for ET. Indeed, many researchers regard CO as an anti-biosignature, because it's a readily available source of carbon and energy that life-forms should theoretically gobble up. So, finding lots of CO in an exoplanet's atmosphere would suggest the absence of life as we know it, according to this line of thinking.

The team's results indicated that CO could have accumulated in significant quantities in those long-gone days, reaching concentrations of around 100 parts per million (ppm), or about 1,000 times higher than current levels.

Abundances - Atmospheres - Exoplanets - Stars - Sun

"That means we could expect high carbon-monoxide abundances in the atmospheres of inhabited but oxygen-poor exoplanets orbiting stars like our own sun," study co-author Timothy Lyons, a professor of biogeochemistry at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), said in a statement.

The scientists also applied their models to exoplanetary systems — specifically, those centered on red dwarfs, the small, dim stars that make up about 75 percent of the Milky Way galaxy's stellar population.

Team - Planets - Lots - Oxygen - Atmospheres

The team found that inhabited red-dwarf planets with lots of oxygen in their atmospheres likely sport high levels of CO as well. In fact, CO concentrations on such worlds could be as high...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Space.com
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