Astronomers are working hard to understand biosignatures and how they indicate life’s presence on an exoplanet. But each planet we encounter is a unique puzzle. When it comes to planetary atmospheres, carbon is a big piece of the puzzle because it has a powerful effect on climate and biogeochemistry. If scientists can figure out how and where a planet’s carbon comes from and how it behaves in the atmosphere, they’ve made progress in solving the puzzle.
But one of the problems with carbon in exoplanet atmospheres is that it can send mixed signals.
Supermassive Black Holes (SMBHs) are impossible to ignore. They can be billions of times more massive than the Sun, and when they’re actively consuming stars and gas, they become luminous active galactic nuclei (AGN.) A galaxy’s center is a busy place, with the activity centred on the SMBH.
New research provides strong evidence that while going about their business, SMBHs alter their host galaxy’s chemistry.
There’s an unusual object near the Milky Way’s heart that astronomers call “The Brick.” It’s a massive cloud of gas called an infrared dark cloud (IDC). The Brick is dense and turbulent like others of its type, but for some reason, it shows few signs of star formation.
The search for life is an incredibly evocative driver of cosmic exploration. It captures our imagination to think that there might be living things out there somewhere else. That’s one reason why we point our eyes—and telescopes—to the stars.
Astrochemistry is the study of how molecules can form and react in space. Its roots trace back to the 1800s when astronomers such as William Wollaston and Joseph von Fraunhofer began identifying atomic elements from the spectral lines of the Sun. But it wasn’t until recent decades that the field began to mature.
Earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago. That simplistic statement is common, and it’s a good starting point for understanding our planet and our Solar System. But, obviously, Earth didn’t form all at once. The process played out for some period of time, and the usual number given is about 100 million years.
New research suggests that Earth formed more quickly than that in only a few million years.
When astronomers used the JWST to look at a galaxy more than 12 billion light years away, they were also looking back in time. And when they found organic molecules in that distant galaxy, they found them in the early Universe.
The organic molecules are usually found where stars are forming, but in this case, they’re not.
Life doesn’t appear from nothing. Its origins are wrapped up in the same long, arduous process that creates the elements, then stars, then planets. Then, if everything lines up just right, after billions of years, a simple, single-celled organism can appear, maybe in a puddle of water on a hospitable planet somewhere.
It takes time for the building blocks of stars and planets to assemble in space, and the building blocks of life are along for the ride. But there are significant gaps in our understanding of how all that works. A new study is filling in one of those gaps.
Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere does more than provide the foundation for complex life. The oxygen in the atmosphere is so reactive that it readily combines with other chemical elements. Together, they form important ores like iron oxides and manganese oxides found in the Earth’s crust. So, when rovers spotted manganese oxides on Mars, scientists interpreted them as clues to Mars’ earlier atmosphere: it must have contained oxygen.