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Fluorescent glow can reveal hidden life in the cosmos

  Fluorescent glow can reveal hidden life in the cosmos
Illustration by Wendy Kenigsberg / Matt Fondeur / Cornell University

Astronomers have revealed a new way to search for life in the cosmos. Powerful ultraviolet radiation sources from red suns, once thought to destroy the surface life of planets, can help reveal hidden biospheres. Their radiation could trigger a protective glow from life on exoplanets called biofluorescence, according to new Cornell University research.

"Biofluorescent Worlds II: Biological Fluorescence Induced by Stellar UV Flares, a New Temporary Biosignature," was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society .

"This is a whole new way of searching for life in the universe. Imagine an alien world glowing gently in a powerful telescope," said lead author Jack O & # 39; Malley-James, a researcher at Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute.

"On Earth, there are some underwater corals that use biofluorescence to turn the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation into harmless visible wavelengths, creating a beautiful radiance. Perhaps such life forms may exist in other worlds as well, giving us a clear sign to discover them, "said co-author Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy and director of the Carl Sagan Institute

Astronomers generally agree that a large part of the exoplanets ̵

1; planets beyond our solar system – live in the habitable zone of M-type stars, the most wonderful kinds of stars in the universe. M-type stars often flare, and as these ultraviolet flares strike their planets, biofluorescence can paint these worlds in beautiful colors. The next generation of Earth or space-based telescopes can detect the glowing exoplanets, if they are in the cosmos.

Ultraviolet rays can be absorbed for longer, safer wavelengths through a process called "photo-protective biofluorescence", and that mechanism leaves a specific sign that astronomers can look for.

Credit: Cornell University

"Such biofluorescence could expose hidden biospheres to new worlds through their temporary glow when a flare from a star hits the planet," Kaltenegger said. [19659005] Astronomers used emission properties for common coral fluorescent pigments from Earth to create model spectra and colors for planets orbiting active M stars to mimic the signal's strength and whether it could be detected for life.

In 2016, astronomers found a rocky exoplanet called Proxima b – a potentially habitable world orbiting the active M-star Proxima Centauri, the Earth's closest star beyond the sun – which can be considered a targe t. Proxima b is also one of the most optimal future destinations.

"These biotic species of exoplanets are very good targets in our search for exoplanets, and these luminous wonders are among our best efforts to find life on exoplanets," O & # 39; Malley-James said.

Large, land-based telescopes that are now being developed for 10 to 20 years to come may be able to detect this glow.

"It's a big target for the next generation of large telescopes, which can capture enough light from small planets to analyze it for signs of life, like the extremely large telescope in Chile," Kaltenegger said.

Life can be developed right now on the nearest exoplanets

More information:
Jack T O & # 39; Malley-James et al, Biofluorescent Worlds – II. Biological fluorescence induced by star UV flanges, a new temporary biosignature, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2019). DOI: 10.1093 / mnras / stz1842

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Fluorescent glow can reveal hidden life in the cosmos (2019, August 13)
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