Is it Life, or is it Volcanoes?

This artist's illustration shows an exoplanet with active volcanoes. But from a great distance we can't see the volcanoes, only the effect they have on their atmospheres, and that can muddy the waters when it comes to biosignatures. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (KRBwyle)

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.

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