Scientists to Utilize Carbon Dioxide and Methane Signatures to Detect Alien Life


Researchers are claiming they have found a new way of seeking out signs of alien life in the universe. According to Professor David Catling from the University of Washington, the studies on the combination of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmospheres are compelling signs of life.

Source: Daily Mirror

Until recently the scientific community were mostly looking for oxygen markers in the planetary atmospheres to ascertain the potential for life considering the earth’s life potentiality was solely dependent on oxygen as far as gaseous composition was concerned. It has now come that other significant markers may be missing from the equation like carbon-signatures indicating these worlds are supporting life. Thus, planets with life may have been overlooked previously.

Carbon Dioxide and Methane Signatures Indicate Life

The team of scientists explored the way a planet could have an imbalance of methane including potential events such as impacts from asteroids or the interaction of water and rocks. However, it was ascertained it would be rather hard to produce gas from a rocky, Earth-like surface unless it was populated by living organisms. Processes generating both carbon dioxide and methane like big volcanic eruptions would also have the potential to produce carbon monoxide even though it would most likely be consumed by microbes.


The implication is a planetary atmosphere with significant levels of carbon monoxide instead of dioxide would mean the lack of biological life.  If carbon dioxide and methane traces were indicated in the atmosphere, it would allude to the potential of alien life on the planet. According to Joshua Krissansen, the corresponding author of the study and doctoral student Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, it makes more sense to consider alternative bio-signatures and place all eggs within one basket.

Feasibility of Carbon Signature Utilization

The carbon dioxide and methane combination being proposed is potentially more prevalent than oxygen. That is because oxygen-producing photosynthesis provides a complex metabolism which took a long time to evolve on earth. On the other hand, methane production is simpler as a metabolic process and there is evidence which suggests it evolved immediately after the life began. According to Krissansen, different gases absorb light at particular diagnostic wavelengths, and so looking at the spectrum of light from a planet, astronomers would determine which gases are present and their quantities. Once the gaseous composition is ascertained the combination would be utilized in the interpretation of results and deciding on which gases would be due to the presence of life or not.

Source: Science ABC

Professor Catling reiterated what was exciting was the hypothesis was actually doable and could lead to the historic discovery of an extraterrestrial biosphere in the near future. Writing in the Journal Science Advances, the team in charge of the research proposal claimed it was quite hard to generate a lot of oxygen without earth like building blocks. The search for atmospheric oxygen was clearly one of the most sensible strategies but it utilized limited parameters. The new considerations will allow the James Webb telescope to conduct the first searches for evidence of life in the atmospheres of faraway planets.