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In their search for life in solar systems near and far, researchers have often accepted the presence of oxygen in a planet's atmosphere as the surest sign that life may be present there. A new Johns Hopkins study, however, recommends a reconsideration of that rule of thumb.

 

Simulating in the lab the atmospheres of planets beyond the solar system, researchers successfully created both organic compounds and oxygen, absent of life.

 

The findings, published Dec. 11 by the journal ACS Earth and Space Chemistry, serve as a cautionary tale for researchers who suggest the presence of oxygen and organics on distant worlds is evidence of life there.

 

"Our experiments produced oxygen and organic molecules that could serve as the building blocks of life in the lab, proving that the presence of both doesn't definitively indicate life," says Chao He, assistant research scientist in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the study's first author. "Researchers need to more carefully consider how these molecules are produced."

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