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Toxic gas may be a precursor to extraterrestrial life

A rocky planet in orbit around Proxima Centauri would support liquid water (artist image). (Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STSc))

If scientists are looking for E. T. in the space, they can consider to be a variable that can be harmful for the whole mankind — carbon monoxide.

A new study suggests that the toxic gas that prevents blood from carrying oxygen to the vital parts of the body, can be a promising “biosignature” for the existence of extraterrestrial life and scientists should consider, in spite of the potential drawbacks.

“That means we can expect high carbon monoxide abundances in the atmosphere of the inhabited, but oxygen-poor exoplanets in an orbit around a star like our own sun,” said Timothy Lyon, one of the study co-authors, in a statement. “This is a perfect example of our team’s mission to use the Earth in the past as a guide in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.”

REAL-LIFE ‘PLANET VULCAN WAS 16 LIGHT-YEARS AWAY FROM THE EARTH

The study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, looked at two scenarios: the first is looked at the history of the Earth, which had a very different chemical composition than three billion years ago, with considerably more carbon monoxide in the atmosphere than there is now.

The model shows that an ancient version of the Earth could have supported as much as 100 parts per million of carbon monoxide, or several times larger than parts per billion traces of the gas in the atmosphere today.

In the second case, it may be even more favourable for carbon monoxide a biosignature — red dwarfs, such as Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, the Sun, exo-planets that are rich in oxygen, and also contains an “abundance of carbon monoxide,” ranging from hundreds of parts per million to several percent.

“In view of the various astrophysical context for these planets, we should not be surprised to find microbial biospheres the promotion of a high level of carbon monoxide,” the study’s lead author, Edward Schwieterman, said in the statement. “However, this would certainly not be in the right place for human or animal life as we know it on Earth.”

THE HISTORY OF THE EARTH CAN BE USED TO SPOT PLANT LIFE ON ALIEN WORLDS

In January, a similar study proposed that planets rich in oxygen may not necessarily support the existence of alien life, despite the fact that it is a crucial component for life on Earth.

A near-term area of hope for researchers looking for extraterrestrial life, is the upcoming launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Scheduled for launch in March 2021, NASA says that it will “study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our solar system.”

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