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Habitable worlds with no signs of life

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Original languageEnglish
Article number20130082
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophical Transactions A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume372
Issue number2014
DOIs
StatePublished - 28 Apr 2014

Abstract

'Most habitable worlds in the cosmos will have no remotely detectable signs of life' is proposed as a biological hypothesis to be tested in the study of exoplanets. Habitable planets could be discovered elsewhere in the Universe, yet there are many hypothetical scenarios whereby the search for life on them could yield negative results. Scenarios for habitable worlds with no remotely detectable signatures of life include: planets that are habitable, but have no biosphere (Uninhabited Habitable Worlds); planets with life, but lacking any detectable surface signatures of that life (laboratory examples are provided); and planets with life, where the concentrations of atmospheric gases produced or removed by biota are impossible to disentangle from abiotic processes because of the lack of detailed knowledge of planetary conditions (the 'problem of exoplanet thermodynamic uncertainty'). A rejection of the hypothesis would require that the origin of life usually occurs on habitable planets, that spectrally detectable pigments and/or metabolisms that produce unequivocal biosignature gases (e. g. oxygenic photosynthesis) usually evolve and that the organisms that harbour them usually achieve a sufficient biomass to produce biosignatures detectable to alien astronomers.

    Research areas

  • habitability, exoplanets, life, biosignatures, microorganisms, EARTH-LIKE PLANETS, DEINOCOCCUS-RADIODURANS, SPECTRAL SIGNATURES, IONIZING-RADIATION, OXIDIZING BACTERIA, LIGHT PENETRATION, DEEP SUBSURFACE, VOLCANIC GLASS, HEAVY-METALS, FERROUS IRON

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