As lower-mass stars often host multiple rocky planets, gravitational interactions among planets can have significant effects on climate and habitability over long timescales. Here we explore a specific case, Kepler-62f (Borucki et al., 2013 ), a potentially habitable planet in a five-planet system with a K2V host star. N-body integrations reveal the stable range of initial eccentricities for Kepler-62f is 0.00 ≤ e ≤ 0.32, absent the effect of additional, undetected planets. We simulate the tidal evolution of Kepler-62f in this range and find that, for certain assumptions, the planet can be locked in a synchronous rotation state. Simulations using the 3-D Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD) Generic global climate model (GCM) indicate that the surface habitability of this planet is sensitive to orbital configuration. With 3 bar of CO2 in its atmosphere, we find that Kepler-62f would only be warm enough for surface liquid water at the upper limit of this eccentricity range, providing it has a high planetary obliquity (between 60° and 90°). A climate similar to that of modern-day Earth is possible for the entire range of stable eccentricities if atmospheric CO2 is increased to 5 bar levels. In a low-CO2 case (Earth-like levels), simulations with version 4 of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM4) GCM and LMD Generic GCM indicate that increases in planetary obliquity and orbital eccentricity coupled with an orbital configuration that places the summer solstice at or near pericenter permit regions of the planet with above-freezing surface temperatures. This may melt ice sheets formed during colder seasons. If Kepler-62f is synchronously rotating and has an ocean, CO2 levels above 3 bar would be required to distribute enough heat to the nightside of the planet to avoid atmospheric freeze-out and permit a large enough region of open water at the planet’s substellar point to remain stable. Overall, we find multiple plausible combinations of orbital and atmospheric properties that permit surface liquid water on Kepler-62f. Key Words: Extrasolar planets-Habitability-Planetary environments. Astrobiology 16, xxx-xxx.
The lower cloud layer of Venus (47.5-50.5 km) is an exceptional target for exploration due to the favorable conditions for microbial life, including moderate temperatures and pressures (∼60°C and 1 atm), and the presence of micron-sized sulfuric acid aerosols. Nearly a century after the ultraviolet (UV) contrasts of Venus' cloud layer were discovered with Earth-based photographs, the substances and mechanisms responsible for the changes in Venus' contrasts and albedo are still unknown. While current models include sulfur dioxide and iron chloride as the UV absorbers, the temporal and spatial changes in contrasts, and albedo, between 330 and 500 nm, remain to be fully explained. Within this context, we present a discussion regarding the potential for microorganisms to survive in Venus' lower clouds and contribute to the observed bulk spectra. In this article, we provide an overview of relevant Venus observations, compare the spectral and physical properties of Venus' clouds to terrestrial biological materials, review the potential for an iron- and sulfur-centered metabolism in the clouds, discuss conceivable mechanisms of transport from the surface toward a more habitable zone in the clouds, and identify spectral and biological experiments that could measure the habitability of Venus' clouds and terrestrial analogues. Together, our lines of reasoning suggest that particles in Venus' lower clouds contain sufficient mass balance to harbor microorganisms, water, and solutes, and potentially sufficient biomass to be detected by optical methods. As such, the comparisons presented in this article warrant further investigations into the prospect of biosignatures in Venus' clouds. Key Words: Venus-Clouds-Life-Habitability-Microorganism-Albedo-Spectroscopy-Biosignatures-Aerosol-Sulfuric Acid. Astrobiology 18, xxx-xxx.
The fact that Earth is teeming with life makes it appear odd to ask whether there could be other planets in our galaxy that may be even more suitable for life. Neglecting this possible class of “superhabitable” planets, however, could be considered anthropocentric and geocentric biases. Most important from the perspective of an observer searching for extrasolar life is that such a search might be executed most effectively with a focus on superhabitable planets instead of Earth-like planets. We argue that there could be regions of astrophysical parameter space of star-planet systems that could allow for planets to be even better for life than our Earth. We aim to identify those parameters and their optimal ranges, some of which are astrophysically motivated, whereas others are based on the varying habitability of the natural history of our planet. Some of these conditions are far from being observationally testable on planets outside the solar system. Still, we can distill a short list of 24 top contenders among the >4000 exoplanets known today that could be candidates for a superhabitable planet. In fact, we argue that, with regard to the search for extrasolar life, potentially superhabitable planets may deserve higher priority for follow-up observations than most Earth-like planets.
We revisit the hypothesis that there is life in the Venusian clouds to propose a life cycle that resolves the conundrum of how life can persist aloft for hundreds of millions to billions of years. Most discussions of an aerial biosphere in the Venus atmosphere temperate layers never address whether the life-small microbial-type particles-is free floating or confined to the liquid environment inside cloud droplets. We argue that life must reside inside liquid droplets such that it will be protected from a fatal net loss of liquid to the atmosphere, an unavoidable problem for any free-floating microbial life forms. However, the droplet habitat poses a lifetime limitation: Droplets inexorably grow (over a few months) to large enough sizes that are forced by gravity to settle downward to hotter, uninhabitable layers of the Venusian atmosphere. (Droplet fragmentation-which would reduce particle size-does not occur in Venusian atmosphere conditions.) We propose for the first time that the only way life can survive indefinitely is with a life cycle that involves microbial life drying out as liquid droplets evaporate during settling, with the small desiccated “spores” halting at, and partially populating, the Venus atmosphere stagnant lower haze layer (33-48 km altitude). We, thus, call the Venusian lower haze layer a “depot” for desiccated microbial life. The spores eventually return to the cloud layer by upward diffusion caused by mixing induced by gravity waves, act as cloud condensation nuclei, and rehydrate for a continued life cycle. We also review the challenges for life in the extremely harsh conditions of the Venusian atmosphere, refuting the notion that the “habitable” cloud layer has an analogy in any terrestrial environment.
In this article, we address the cosmic frequency of technological species. Recent advances in exoplanet studies provide strong constraints on all astrophysical terms in the Drake equation. Using these and modifying the form and intent of the Drake equation, we set a firm lower bound on the probability that one or more technological species have evolved anywhere and at any time in the history of the observable Universe. We find that as long as the probability that a habitable zone planet develops a technological species is larger than ∼10(-24), humanity is not the only time technological intelligence has evolved. This constraint has important scientific and philosophical consequences. Key Words: Life-Intelligence-Extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology 2016, xxx-xxx.
Abstract Twenty-six strains of 22 bacterial species were tested for growth on trypticase soy agar (TSA) or sea-salt agar (SSA) under hypobaric, psychrophilic, and anoxic conditions applied singly or in combination. As each factor was added to multi-parameter assays, the interactive stresses decreased the numbers of strains capable of growth and, in general, reduced the vigor of the strains observed to grow. Only Serratia liquefaciens strain ATCC 27592 exhibited growth at 7 mbar, 0°C, and CO(2)-enriched anoxic atmospheres. To discriminate between the effects of desiccation and hypobaria, vegetative cells of Bacillus subtilis strain 168 and Escherichia coli strain K12 were grown on TSA surfaces and simultaneously in liquid Luria-Bertani (LB) broth media. Inhibition of growth under hypobaria for 168 and K12 decreased in similar ways for both TSA and LB assays as pressures were reduced from 100 to 25 mbar. Results for 168 and K12 on TSA and LB are interpreted to indicate a direct low-pressure effect on microbial growth with both species and do not support the hypothesis that desiccation alone on TSA was the cause of reduced growth at low pressures. The growth of S. liquefaciens at 7 mbar, 0°C, and CO(2)-enriched anoxic atmospheres was surprising since S. liquefaciens is ecologically a generalist that occurs in terrestrial plant, fish, animal, and food niches. In contrast, two extremophiles tested in the assays, Deinococcus radiodurans strain R1 and Psychrobacter cryohalolentis strain K5, failed to grow under hypobaric (25 mbar; R1 only), psychrophilic (0°C; R1 only), or anoxic (<0.1% ppO(2); both species) conditions. Key Words: Habitable zone-Hypobaria-Extremophiles-Special regions-Planetary protection. Astrobiology 13, xxx-xxx.
Abstract Extrasolar Earth and super-Earth planets orbiting within the habitable zone of M dwarf host stars may play a significant role in the discovery of habitable environments beyond Earth. Spectroscopic characterization of these exoplanets with respect to habitability requires the determination of habitability parameters with respect to remote sensing. The habitable zone of dwarf stars is located in close proximity to the host star, such that exoplanets orbiting within this zone will likely be tidally locked. On terrestrial planets with an icy shell, this may produce a liquid water ocean at the substellar point, one particular “Eyeball Earth” state. In this research proposal, HABEBEE: exploring the HABitability of Eyeball-Exo-Earths, we define the parameters necessary to achieve a stable icy Eyeball Earth capable of supporting life. Astronomical and geochemical research will define parameters needed to simulate potentially habitable environments on an icy Eyeball Earth planet. Biological requirements will be based on detailed studies of microbial communities within Earth analog environments. Using the interdisciplinary results of both the physical and biological teams, we will set up a simulation chamber to expose a cold- and UV-tolerant microbial community to the theoretically derived Eyeball Earth climate states, simulating the composition, atmosphere, physical parameters, and stellar irradiation. Combining the results of both studies will enable us to derive observable parameters as well as target decision guidance and feasibility analysis for upcoming astronomical platforms. Key Words: Bioastronomy-Extrasolar planets-Extreme environments-Extremophiles-Habitable zone. Astrobiology 13, xxx-xxx.
We present a testable hypothesis related to an origin of life on land in which fluctuating volcanic hot spring pools play a central role. The hypothesis is based on experimental evidence that lipid-encapsulated polymers can be synthesized by cycles of hydration and dehydration to form protocells. Drawing on metaphors from the bootstrapping of a simple computer operating system, we show how protocells cycling through wet, dry, and moist phases will subject polymers to combinatorial selection and draw structural and catalytic functions out of initially random sequences, including structural stabilization, pore formation, and primitive metabolic activity. We propose that protocells aggregating into a hydrogel in the intermediate moist phase of wet-dry cycles represent a primitive progenote system. Progenote populations can undergo selection and distribution, construct niches in new environments, and enable a sharing network effect that can collectively evolve them into the first microbial communities. Laboratory and field experiments testing the first steps of the scenario are summarized. The scenario is then placed in a geological setting on the early Earth to suggest a plausible pathway from life’s origin in chemically optimal freshwater hot spring pools to the emergence of microbial communities tolerant to more extreme conditions in dilute lakes and salty conditions in marine environments. A continuity is observed for biogenesis beginning with simple protocell aggregates, through the transitional form of the progenote, to robust microbial mats that leave the fossil imprints of stromatolites so representative in the rock record. A roadmap to future testing of the hypothesis is presented. We compare the oceanic vent with land-based pool scenarios for an origin of life and explore their implications for subsequent evolution to multicellular life such as plants. We conclude by utilizing the hypothesis to posit where life might also have emerged in habitats such as Mars or Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. “To postulate one fortuitously catalyzed reaction, perhaps catalyzed by a metal ion, might be reasonable, but to postulate a suite of them is to appeal to magic.” -Leslie Orgel.
Considerable data and analysis support the detection of one or more supernovae (SNe) at a distance of about 50 pc, ∼2.6 million years ago. This is possibly related to the extinction event around that time and is a member of a series of explosions that formed the Local Bubble in the interstellar medium. We build on previous work, and propagate the muon flux from SN-initiated cosmic rays from the surface to the depths of the ocean. We find that the radiation dose from the muons will exceed the total present surface dose from all sources at depths up to 1 km and will persist for at least the lifetime of marine megafauna. It is reasonable to hypothesize that this increase in radiation load may have contributed to a newly documented marine megafaunal extinction at that time.
Abstract Data from automated orbiters and landers have dashed humankind’s hopes of finding complex life-forms elsewhere in the Solar System. The focus of exobiological research was thus forced to shift from the detection of life through simple visual imaging to complex biochemical experiments aimed at the detection of microbial activity. Searching for biosignatures over interplanetary distances is a formidable task and poses the dilemma of what are the proper experiments that can be performed on-site to maximize the chances of success if extraterrestrial life is present but not evident. Despite their astonishing morphological diversity, all known organisms on Earth share the same basic molecular architecture; thus the vast majority of our detection and identification techniques are b(i)ased on Terran biochemistry. There is, however, a distinct possibility that life may have emerged elsewhere by using other molecular building blocks, a fact that is likely to make the outcome of most of the current molecular biological and biochemical life-detection protocols difficult to interpret if not completely ineffective. Nanopore-based sensing devices allow the analysis of single molecules, including the sequence of informational biopolymers such as DNA or RNA, by measuring current changes across an electrically resistant membrane when the analyte flows through an embedded transmembrane protein or a solid-state nanopore. Under certain basic assumptions about their physical properties, this technology has the potential to discriminate and possibly analyze biopolymers, in particular genetic information carriers, without prior detailed knowledge of their fundamental chemistry and is sufficiently portable to be used for automated analysis in planetary exploration, all of which makes it the ideal candidate for the search for life signatures in remote watery environments such as Mars, Europa, or Enceladus. Key Words: Astrobiology-Biopolymers-Biosignatures-Nucleic acids-Life detection. Astrobiology 14, xxx-xxx.