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Scientist searches for star phosphorus to find potentially habitable exoplanets



SwRI scientist searches for stellar phosphorus to find potentially habitable exoplanets

A researcher from the Southwest Research Institute has identified star phosphorus as a likely marker to narrow the search for life in the cosmos. Stars with phosphorus levels similar to the sun are considered to be more likely to host rocky planets with the potential to host life as we know it. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

A researcher from the Southwest Research Institute has identified stellar phosphorus as a likely marker to narrow the search for life in the cosmos. She has developed techniques to identify stars that are likely to host exoplanets, based on the composition of stars known to have planets, and suggests that future studies target star phosphorus to find systems most likely to be host for life as we know it.


“When we search for exoplanets and try to see if they are habitable, it is important that a planet is alive with active cycles, volcanoes and plate tectonics,”

; Dr.NRIE Natalie Hinkel of SwRI, a planetary astrophysicist and lead author, told a new paper on this. research in the astrophysical research letters. “My co-author, Dr. Hilairy Hartnett, is an oceanographer and pointed out that phosphorus is essential for all life on Earth. It is important for the creation of DNA, cell membranes, bones and teeth in humans and animals and even the ocean microbiome of plankton. “

It is not yet possible to determine the fundamentals of exoplanetary ecosystems, but it is generally assumed that planets have compositions similar to their host stars. Scientists can measure the abundance of elements in a star spectroscopically and examine how light interacts with the elements in a star’s upper layer. Using this data, scientists can deduce what a star’s orbiting planets are made of, using star composition as a proxy for its planets.

On Earth, the key elements of biology are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur (or CHNOPS). In today’s oceans, phosphorus is considered the ultimate limiting nutrient for life, as it is the least available chemical needed for biochemical reactions.

Hinkel used the Hypatia Catalog, a publicly available star database she developed, to assess and compare the carbon, nitrogen, silicon, and phosphorus ratios between nearby stars and those in average sea plankton, the earth’s crust, and bulk silicate on Earth. and Mars.

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

It is not that the stars necessarily lack phosphorus, but it is difficult to measure the element because it is detected in an area of ​​the light spectrum that is not typically observed: at the edge of the optical (or visual) wavelength of light and infrared light. Most spectroscopic examinations are not set to find elements in the narrow range.

“Our sun has relatively high phosphorus, and soil biology requires a small but noticeable amount of phosphorus,” Hinkel continued. “So on rocky planets formed around host stars with less phosphorus, it is likely that phosphorus will not be available for potential life on the surface of this planet. Therefore, we urge the strong affluent community to prioritize phosphorus observations in future studies and telescope designs.”

Going forward, these findings could revolutionize target selection of stars for future research and lay the role that the elements play in the detection, formation, and habitability of the exoplanet.


Scientist develops database for ‘exploration’ of the star exoplanet


More information:
Natalie R. Hinkel et al., The influence of star 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 star 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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