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The scientist is looking for stellar phosphorus to find potentially habitable exoplanets



A SwRI scientist is looking for stellar phosphorus to find potentially habitable exoplanets

A scientist at the Southwest Research Institute has identified stellar phosphorus as a likely marker when it comes to narrowing the search for life in the cosmos. Stars with phosphorus levels similar to the Sun are considered more likely to host rocky planets with the potential to host life as we know it. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

A scientist at the Southwest Research Institute has identified stellar phosphorus as a likely marker when it comes to narrowing the search for life in the cosmos. He has developed techniques for identifying stars likely to host exoplanets, based on the composition of stars known to have planets, and proposes that future studies focus on stellar phosphorus to find systems most likely to host life as we know it.

“When looking for exoplanets and trying to see if they are habitable, it’s important for a planet to be alive with active cycles, volcanoes, and plate tectonics,” said Dr. Natalie Hinkel, a planetary astrophysicist and lead author of a new article on the subject. research in astrophysics research charts. “My co-author, Dr. Hilairy Hartnett, is an oceanographer and noted that phosphorus is vital for all life on Earth. It is essential for the creation of DNA, cell membranes, bones and teeth in people. and animals, and even in the microbiome of the sea. of plankton “.

Determining elemental relationships for exoplanetary ecosystems is not yet possible, but planets are generally assumed to have compositions similar to those of their host stars. Scientists can measure the abundance of elements in a star spectroscopically by studying how light interacts with the elements in the upper layers of a star. Using this data, scientists can infer what the orbiting planets of a star are made of, using stellar composition as a proxy for their planets.

On Earth, the key elements for biology are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur (or CHNOPS). In today̵

7;s oceans, phosphorus is considered the last life-limiting nutrient, as it is the least available chemical needed for biochemical reactions.

Hinkel used the Hypatia Catalog, a publicly available stellar database he developed, to evaluate and compare the abundance relationships of carbon, nitrogen, silicon, and phosphorus in nearby stars with those of the middle marine plankton, the Earth’s crust and massive silicate on Earth. and Mars.

“But there is so little data on stellar phosphorus abundance,” Hinkel said. “There is only phosphorus data for about 1% of stars. This makes it really difficult to figure out clear trends between stars, let alone the role of phosphorus in the evolution of an exoplanet.”

It’s not that stars necessarily lack phosphorus, but it’s difficult to measure the element because it’s detected in a region of the light spectrum that isn’t normally observed: on the edge of optical (or visual) wavelengths. ) of light and infrared light. Most spectroscopic studies are not fine-tuned to find elements in this narrow range.

“Our Sun has relatively high phosphorus and the Earth’s biology requires a small, but remarkable, amount of phosphorus,” Hinkel continued. “Therefore, on rocky planets that form around host stars with less phosphorus, phosphorus is unlikely to be available for potential life on the surface of this planet. Therefore, we urge the community to stellar abundance to make phosphorus observations a priority in future studies and telescope designs. “

Going forward, these findings could revolutionize target star selections for future research and achieve the role that elements play in the detection, formation, and habitability of exoplanets.


A scientist develops a database for stellar-exoplanet exploration


More information:
Natalie R. Hinkel et al, The influence of stellar phosphorus on our understanding of exoplanets and astrobiology, The Astrophysical Journal (2020). DOI: 10.3847 / 2041-8213 / abb3cb

Provided by Southwest Research Institute



Citation: Scientist searches for stellar phosphorus to find potentially habitable exoplanets (2020, September 16) retrieved September 16, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-09-scientist-stellar-phosphorus-potentially- habitable.html

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