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1.  Spectral Fingerprints of Earth-like Planets Around FGK Stars 
Astrobiology  2013;13(3):251-269.
Abstract
We present model atmospheres for an Earth-like planet orbiting the entire grid of main sequence FGK stars with effective temperatures ranging from Teff=4250 K to Teff=7000 K in 250 K intervals. We have modeled the remotely detectable spectra of Earth-like planets for clear and cloudy atmospheres at the 1 AU equivalent distance from the VIS to IR (0.4 to 20 μm) to compare detectability of features in different wavelength ranges in accordance with the James Webb Space Telescope and future design concepts to characterize exo-Earths. We have also explored the effect of the stellar UV levels as well as spectral energy distribution on a terrestrial atmosphere, concentrating on detectable atmospheric features that indicate habitability on Earth, namely, H2O, O3, CH4, N2O, and CH3Cl.
The increase in UV dominates changes of O3, OH, CH4, N2O, and CH3Cl, whereas the increase in stellar temperature dominates changes in H2O. The overall effect as stellar effective temperatures and corresponding UV increase is a lower surface temperature of the planet due to a bigger part of the stellar flux being reflected at short wavelengths, as well as increased photolysis. Earth-like atmosphere models show more O3 and OH but less stratospheric CH4, N2O, CH3Cl, and tropospheric H2O (but more stratospheric H2O) with increasing effective temperature of main sequence stars. The corresponding detectable spectral features, on the other hand, show different detectability depending on the wavelength observed.
We concentrate on directly imaged planets here as a framework to interpret future light curves, direct imaging, and secondary eclipse measurements of atmospheres of terrestrial planets in the habitable zone at varying orbital positions. Key Words: Habitability—Planetary atmospheres—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Spectroscopic biosignatures. Astrobiology 13, 251–269.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0888
PMCID: PMC3612284  PMID: 23537136
2.  The Effect of Host Star Spectral Energy Distribution and Ice-Albedo Feedback on the Climate of Extrasolar Planets 
Astrobiology  2013;13(8):715-739.
Abstract
Planetary climate can be affected by the interaction of the host star spectral energy distribution with the wavelength-dependent reflectivity of ice and snow. In this study, we explored this effect with a one-dimensional (1-D), line-by-line, radiative transfer model to calculate broadband planetary albedos as input to a seasonally varying, 1-D energy balance climate model. A three-dimensional (3-D) general circulation model was also used to explore the atmosphere's response to changes in incoming stellar radiation, or instellation, and surface albedo. Using this hierarchy of models, we simulated planets covered by ocean, land, and water-ice of varying grain size, with incident radiation from stars of different spectral types. Terrestrial planets orbiting stars with higher near-UV radiation exhibited a stronger ice-albedo feedback. We found that ice extent was much greater on a planet orbiting an F-dwarf star than on a planet orbiting a G-dwarf star at an equivalent flux distance, and that ice-covered conditions occurred on an F-dwarf planet with only a 2% reduction in instellation relative to the present instellation on Earth, assuming fixed CO2 (present atmospheric level on Earth). A similar planet orbiting the Sun at an equivalent flux distance required an 8% reduction in instellation, while a planet orbiting an M-dwarf star required an additional 19% reduction in instellation to become ice-covered, equivalent to 73% of the modern solar constant. The reduction in instellation must be larger for planets orbiting cooler stars due in large part to the stronger absorption of longer-wavelength radiation by icy surfaces on these planets in addition to stronger absorption by water vapor and CO2 in their atmospheres, which provides increased downwelling longwave radiation. Lowering the IR and visible-band surface ice and snow albedos for an M-dwarf planet increased the planet's climate stability against changes in instellation and slowed the descent into global ice coverage. The surface ice-albedo feedback effect becomes less important at the outer edge of the habitable zone, where atmospheric CO2 could be expected to be high such that it maintains clement conditions for surface liquid water. We showed that ∼3–10 bar of CO2 will entirely mask the climatic effect of ice and snow, leaving the outer limits of the habitable zone unaffected by the spectral dependence of water ice and snow albedo. However, less CO2 is needed to maintain open water for a planet orbiting an M-dwarf star than would be the case for hotter main-sequence stars. Key Words: Extrasolar planets—M stars—Habitable zone—Snowball Earth. Astrobiology 13, 715–739.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0961
PMCID: PMC3746291  PMID: 23855332
3.  Using Dimers to Measure Biosignatures and Atmospheric Pressure for Terrestrial Exoplanets 
Astrobiology  2014;14(2):67-86.
Abstract
We present a new method to probe atmospheric pressure on Earth-like planets using (O2-O2) dimers in the near-infrared. We also show that dimer features could be the most readily detectable biosignatures for Earth-like atmospheres and may even be detectable in transit transmission with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The absorption by dimers changes more rapidly with pressure and density than that of monomers and can therefore provide additional information about atmospheric pressures. By comparing the absorption strengths of rotational and vibrational features to the absorption strengths of dimer features, we show that in some cases it may be possible to estimate the pressure at the reflecting surface of a planet. This method is demonstrated by using the O2 A band and the 1.06 μm dimer feature, either in transmission or reflected spectra. It works best for planets around M dwarfs with atmospheric pressures between 0.1 and 10 bar and for O2 volume mixing ratios above 50% of Earth's present-day level. Furthermore, unlike observations of Rayleigh scattering, this method can be used at wavelengths longer than 0.6 μm and is therefore potentially applicable, although challenging, to near-term planet characterization missions such as JWST. We also performed detectability studies for JWST transit transmission spectroscopy and found that the 1.06 and 1.27 μm dimer features could be detectable (SNR>3) for an Earth analogue orbiting an M5V star at a distance of 5 pc. The detection of these features could provide a constraint on the atmospheric pressure of an exoplanet and serve as biosignatures for oxygenic photosynthesis. We calculated the required signal-to-noise ratios to detect and characterize O2 monomer and dimer features in direct imaging–reflected spectra and found that signal-to-noise ratios greater than 10 at a spectral resolving power of R=100 would be required. Key Words: Remote sensing—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Radiative transfer—Biosignatures. Astrobiology 14, 67–86.
doi:10.1089/ast.2013.0990
PMCID: PMC3928785  PMID: 24432758
4.  The Dependence of the Ice-Albedo Feedback on Atmospheric Properties 
Astrobiology  2013;13(10):899-909.
Abstract
Ice-albedo feedback is a potentially important destabilizing effect for the climate of terrestrial planets. It is based on the positive feedback between decreasing surface temperatures, an increase of snow and ice cover, and an associated increase in planetary albedo, which then further decreases surface temperature. A recent study shows that for M stars, the strength of the ice-albedo feedback is reduced due to the strong spectral dependence of stellar radiation and snow/ice albedos; that is, M stars primarily emit in the near IR, where the snow and ice albedo is low, and less in the visible, where the snow/ice albedo is high.
This study investigates the influence of the atmosphere (in terms of surface pressure and atmospheric composition) on this feedback, since an atmosphere was neglected in previous studies. A plane-parallel radiative transfer model was used for the calculation of planetary albedos. We varied CO2 partial pressures as well as the H2O, CH4, and O3 content in the atmosphere for planets orbiting Sun-like and M type stars.
Results suggest that, for planets around M stars, the ice-albedo effect is significantly reduced, compared to planets around Sun-like stars. Including the effects of an atmosphere further suppresses the sensitivity to the ice-albedo effect. Atmospheric key properties such as surface pressure, but also the abundance of radiative trace gases, can considerably change the strength of the ice-albedo feedback. For dense CO2 atmospheres of the order of a few to tens of bar, atmospheric rather than surface properties begin to dominate the planetary radiation budget. At high CO2 pressures, the ice-albedo feedback is strongly reduced for planets around M stars. The presence of trace amounts of H2O and CH4 in the atmosphere also weakens the ice-albedo effect for both stellar types considered. For planets around Sun-like stars, O3 could also lead to a very strong decrease of the ice-albedo feedback at high CO2 pressures. Key Words: Atmospheric compositions—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Snowball Earth—Planetary atmospheres—Radiative transfer. Astrobiology 13, 899–909.
doi:10.1089/ast.2013.0993
PMCID: PMC3807702  PMID: 24111995
5.  Response of Atmospheric Biomarkers to NOx-Induced Photochemistry Generated by Stellar Cosmic Rays for Earth-like Planets in the Habitable Zone of M Dwarf Stars 
Astrobiology  2012;12(12):1109-1122.
Abstract
Understanding whether M dwarf stars may host habitable planets with Earth-like atmospheres and biospheres is a major goal in exoplanet research. If such planets exist, the question remains as to whether they could be identified via spectral signatures of biomarkers. Such planets may be exposed to extreme intensities of cosmic rays that could perturb their atmospheric photochemistry. Here, we consider stellar activity of M dwarfs ranging from quiet up to strong flaring conditions and investigate one particular effect upon biomarkers, namely, the ability of secondary electrons caused by stellar cosmic rays to break up atmospheric molecular nitrogen (N2), which leads to production of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the planetary atmosphere, hence affecting biomarkers such as ozone (O3). We apply a stationary model, that is, without a time dependence; hence we are calculating the limiting case where the atmospheric chemistry response time of the biomarkers is assumed to be slow and remains constant compared with rapid forcing by the impinging stellar flares. This point should be further explored in future work with time-dependent models. We estimate the NOx production using an air shower approach and evaluate the implications using a climate-chemical model of the planetary atmosphere. O3 formation proceeds via the reaction O+O2+M→O3+M. At high NOx abundances, the O atoms arise mainly from NO2 photolysis, whereas on Earth this occurs via the photolysis of molecular oxygen (O2). For the flaring case, O3 is mainly destroyed via direct titration, NO+O3→NO2+O2, and not via the familiar catalytic cycle photochemistry, which occurs on Earth. For scenarios with low O3, Rayleigh scattering by the main atmospheric gases (O2, N2, and CO2) became more important for shielding the planetary surface from UV radiation. A major result of this work is that the biomarker O3 survived all the stellar-activity scenarios considered except for the strong case, whereas the biomarker nitrous oxide (N2O) could survive in the planetary atmosphere under all conditions of stellar activity considered here, which clearly has important implications for missions that aim to detect spectroscopic biomarkers. Key Words: M dwarf—Atmosphere—Earth-like—Biomarkers—Stellar cosmic rays. Astrobiology 12, 1109–1122.
doi:10.1089/ast.2011.0682
PMCID: PMC3522229  PMID: 23215581
6.  Chaotic Exchange of Solid Material Between Planetary Systems: Implications for Lithopanspermia 
Astrobiology  2012;12(8):754-774.
Abstract
We examined a low-energy mechanism for the transfer of meteoroids between two planetary systems embedded in a star cluster using quasi-parabolic orbits of minimal energy. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we found that the exchange of meteoroids could have been significantly more efficient than previously estimated. Our study is relevant to astrobiology, as it addresses whether life on Earth could have been transferred to other planetary systems in the Solar System's birth cluster and whether life on Earth could have been transferred from beyond the Solar System. In the Solar System, the timescale over which solid material was delivered to the region from where it could be transferred via this mechanism likely extended to several hundred million years (as indicated by the 3.8–4.0 Ga epoch of the Late Heavy Bombardment). This timescale could have overlapped with the lifetime of the Solar birth cluster (∼100–500 Myr). Therefore, we conclude that lithopanspermia is an open possibility if life had an early start. Adopting parameters from the minimum mass solar nebula, considering a range of planetesimal size distributions derived from observations of asteroids and Kuiper Belt objects and theoretical coagulation models, and taking into account Oort Cloud formation models, we discerned that the expected number of bodies with mass>10 kg that could have been transferred between the Sun and its nearest cluster neighbor could be of the order of 1014 to 3·1016, with transfer timescales of tens of millions of years. We estimate that of the order of 3·108·l (km) could potentially be life-bearing, where l is the depth of Earth's crust in kilometers that was ejected as the result of the early bombardment. Key Words: Extrasolar planets—Interplanetary dust—Interstellar meteorites—Lithopanspermia. Astrobiology 12, 754–774.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0825
PMCID: PMC3440031  PMID: 22897115
7.  Potential Biosignatures in Super-Earth Atmospheres II. Photochemical Responses 
Astrobiology  2013;13(5):415-438.
Abstract
Spectral characterization of super-Earth atmospheres for planets orbiting in the habitable zone of M dwarf stars is a key focus in exoplanet science. A central challenge is to understand and predict the expected spectral signals of atmospheric biosignatures (species associated with life). Our work applies a global-mean radiative-convective-photochemical column model assuming a planet with an Earth-like biomass and planetary development. We investigated planets with gravities of 1g and 3g and a surface pressure of 1 bar around central stars with spectral classes from M0 to M7. The spectral signals of the calculated planetary scenarios have been presented by in an earlier work by Rauer and colleagues. The main motivation of the present work is to perform a deeper analysis of the chemical processes in the planetary atmospheres. We apply a diagnostic tool, the Pathway Analysis Program, to shed light on the photochemical pathways that form and destroy biosignature species. Ozone is a potential biosignature for complex life. An important result of our analysis is a shift in the ozone photochemistry from mainly Chapman production (which dominates in Earth's stratosphere) to smog-dominated ozone production for planets in the habitable zone of cooler (M5–M7)-class dwarf stars. This result is associated with a lower energy flux in the UVB wavelength range from the central star, hence slower planetary atmospheric photolysis of molecular oxygen, which slows the Chapman ozone production. This is important for future atmospheric characterization missions because it provides an indication of different chemical environments that can lead to very different responses of ozone, for example, cosmic rays. Nitrous oxide, a biosignature for simple bacterial life, is favored for low stratospheric UV conditions, that is, on planets orbiting cooler stars. Transport of this species from its surface source to the stratosphere where it is destroyed can also be a key process. Comparing 1g with 3g scenarios, our analysis suggests it is important to include the effects of interactive chemistry. Key Words: Exoplanets—Earth-like—M-dwarf—Photochemistry—Biosignatures. Astrobiology 13, 415–438.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0926
PMCID: PMC3941937  PMID: 23683046
8.  XUV-Exposed, Non-Hydrostatic Hydrogen-Rich Upper Atmospheres of Terrestrial Planets. Part II: Hydrogen Coronae and Ion Escape 
Astrobiology  2013;13(11):1030-1048.
Abstract
We studied the interactions between the stellar wind plasma flow of a typical M star, such as GJ 436, and the hydrogen-rich upper atmosphere of an Earth-like planet and a “super-Earth” with a radius of 2 REarth and a mass of 10 MEarth, located within the habitable zone at ∼0.24 AU. We investigated the formation of extended atomic hydrogen coronae under the influences of the stellar XUV flux (soft X-rays and EUV), stellar wind density and velocity, shape of a planetary obstacle (e.g., magnetosphere, ionopause), and the loss of planetary pickup ions on the evolution of hydrogen-dominated upper atmospheres. Stellar XUV fluxes that are 1, 10, 50, and 100 times higher compared to that of the present-day Sun were considered, and the formation of high-energy neutral hydrogen clouds around the planets due to the charge-exchange reaction under various stellar conditions was modeled. Charge-exchange between stellar wind protons with planetary hydrogen atoms, and photoionization, lead to the production of initially cold ions of planetary origin. We found that the ion production rates for the studied planets can vary over a wide range, from ∼1.0×1025 s−1 to ∼5.3×1030 s−1, depending on the stellar wind conditions and the assumed XUV exposure of the upper atmosphere. Our findings indicate that most likely the majority of these planetary ions are picked up by the stellar wind and lost from the planet. Finally, we estimated the long-time nonthermal ion pickup escape for the studied planets and compared them with the thermal escape. According to our estimates, nonthermal escape of picked-up ionized hydrogen atoms over a planet's lifetime within the habitable zone of an M dwarf varies between ∼0.4 Earth ocean equivalent amounts of hydrogen (EOH) to <3 EOH and usually is several times smaller in comparison to the thermal atmospheric escape rates. Key Words: Stellar activity—Low-mass stars—Early atmospheres—Earth-like exoplanets—Energetic neutral atoms—Ion escape—Habitability. Astrobiology 13, 1030–1048.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0958
PMCID: PMC3865724  PMID: 24283926
9.  Passive Detection of Biological Aerosols in the Atmosphere with a Fourier Transform Instrument (FTIR)—the Results of the Measurements in the Laboratory and in the Field 
Fourier Transform Infrared Radiation (FTIR) spectroscopy is one of the most powerful methods for the detection of gaseous constituents, aerosols, and dust in planetary atmospheres. Infrared spectroscopy plays an important role in searching for biomarkers, organics and biological substances in the Universe. The possibility of detection and identifications with FTIR spectrometer of bio-aerosol spores (Bacillus atrophaeus var. globigii=BG) in the atmosphere is discussed in this paper. We describe the results of initial spectral measurements performed in the laboratory and in the field. The purpose of these experiments was to detect and to identify bio-aerosol spores in two conditions: 1) In a closed chamber where the thermal contrast between the background and aerosols was large, and 2) In open air where the thermal contrast between the background and aerosols was small. The extinction spectrum of BG spores was deduced by comparing our measurements with models, and other measurements known from the literature. Our theoretical and experimental studies indicate that, during passive remote sensing measurements, it is difficult—but possible to detect and to identify bio-aerosol clouds by their spectral signatures. The simple spectral analysis described in the paper can be useful for the detection of various kinds of trace aerosols—not only in the Earth’s atmosphere, but also during planetary missions in the environments of other astronomical objects such as planets, comets etc. We expect that the interpretation of data from spectrometric sounding of Venus and Mars during the current missions Mars and Venus Express, and later during the Rosetta mission will benefit from our experimental work and numerical modelling.
doi:10.1007/s11084-012-9288-z
PMCID: PMC3389243  PMID: 22707349
Bio-aerosols; Spectroscopy; Remote sensing of the atmosphere; Astrobiology
10.  The Effect of a Strong Stellar Flare on the Atmospheric Chemistry of an Earth-like Planet Orbiting an M Dwarf 
Astrobiology  2010;10(7):751-771.
Abstract
Main sequence M stars pose an interesting problem for astrobiology: their abundance in our galaxy makes them likely targets in the hunt for habitable planets, but their strong chromospheric activity produces high-energy radiation and charged particles that may be detrimental to life. We studied the impact of the 1985 April 12 flare from the M dwarf AD Leonis (AD Leo), simulating the effects from both UV radiation and protons on the atmospheric chemistry of a hypothetical, Earth-like planet located within its habitable zone. Based on observations of solar proton events and the Neupert effect, we estimated a proton flux associated with the flare of 5.9 × 108 protons cm−2 sr−1 s−1 for particles with energies >10 MeV. Then we calculated the abundance of nitrogen oxides produced by the flare by scaling the production of these compounds during a large solar proton event called the Carrington event. The simulations were performed with a 1-D photochemical model coupled to a 1-D radiative/convective model. Our results indicate that the UV radiation emitted during the flare does not produce a significant change in the ozone column depth of the planet. When the action of protons is included, the ozone depletion reaches a maximum of 94% two years after the flare for a planet with no magnetic field. At the peak of the flare, the calculated UV fluxes that reach the surface, in the wavelength ranges that are damaging for life, exceed those received on Earth during less than 100 s. Therefore, flares may not present a direct hazard for life on the surface of an orbiting habitable planet. Given that AD Leo is one of the most magnetically active M dwarfs known, this conclusion should apply to planets around other M dwarfs with lower levels of chromospheric activity. Key Words: M dwarf—Flare—Habitable zone—Planetary atmospheres. Astrobiology 10, 751–771.
doi:10.1089/ast.2009.0376
PMCID: PMC3103837  PMID: 20879863
11.  Three regimes of extrasolar planet radius inferred from host star metallicities 
Nature  2014;509(7502):593-595.
Approximately half of the extrasolar planets (exoplanets) with radii less than four Earth radii are in orbits with short periods1. Despite their sheer abundance, the compositions of such planets are largely unknown. The available evidence suggests that they range in composition from small, high-density rocky planets to low-density planets consisting of rocky cores surrounded by thick hydrogen and helium gas envelopes. Here we report the metallicities (that is, the abundances of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) of more than 400 stars hosting 600 exoplanet candidates, and find that the exoplanets can be categorized into three populations defined by statistically distinct (~4.5σ) metallicity regions. We interpret these regions as reflecting the formation regimes of terrestrial-like planets (radii less than 1.7 Earth radii), gas dwarf planets with rocky cores and hydrogen-helium envelopes (radii between 1.7 and 3.9 Earth radii) and ice or gas giant planets (radii greater than 3.9 Earth radii). These transitions correspond well with those inferred from dynamical mass estimates2,3, implying that host star metallicity, which is a proxy for the initial solids inventory of the protoplanetary disk, is a key ingredient regulating the structure of planetary systems.
doi:10.1038/nature13254
PMCID: PMC4048851  PMID: 24870544
12.  Testing Anthropic Selection: A Climate Change Example 
Astrobiology  2011;11(2):105-114.
Abstract
Planetary anthropic selection, the idea that Earth has unusual properties since, otherwise, we would not be here to observe it, is a controversial idea. This paper proposes a methodology by which to test anthropic proposals by comparison of Earth to synthetic populations of Earth-like planets. The paper illustrates this approach by investigating possible anthropic selection for high (or low) rates of Milankovitch-driven climate change. Three separate tests are investigated: (1) Earth-Moon properties and their effect on obliquity; (2) Individual planet locations and their effect on eccentricity variation; (3) The overall structure of the Solar System and its effect on eccentricity variation. In all three cases, the actual Earth/Solar System has unusually low Milankovitch frequencies compared to similar alternative systems. All three results are statistically significant at the 5% or better level, and the probability of all three occurring by chance is less than 10−5. It therefore appears that there has been anthropic selection for slow Milankovitch cycles. This implies possible selection for a stable climate, which, if true, undermines the Gaia hypothesis and also suggests that planets with Earth-like levels of biodiversity are likely to be very rare. Key Words: Planetary habitability and biosignatures—Intelligence—Paleoenvironment and paleoclimate—Co-evolution of Earth and life—Complex life. Astrobiology 11, 105–114.
doi:10.1089/ast.2010.0475
PMCID: PMC3697027  PMID: 21401338
13.  The two-box model of climate: limitations and applications to planetary habitability and maximum entropy production studies 
The ‘two-box model’ of planetary climate is discussed. This model has been used to demonstrate consistency of the equator–pole temperature gradient on Earth, Mars and Titan with what would be predicted from a principle of maximum entropy production (MEP). While useful for exposition and for generating first-order estimates of planetary heat transports, it has too low a resolution to investigate climate systems with strong feedbacks. A two-box MEP model agrees well with the observed day : night temperature contrast observed on the extrasolar planet HD 189733b.
doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0312
PMCID: PMC2871910  PMID: 20368253
climate; entropy production; extrasolar planets; Mars; Titan
14.  XUV-Exposed, Non-Hydrostatic Hydrogen-Rich Upper Atmospheres of Terrestrial Planets. Part I: Atmospheric Expansion and Thermal Escape 
Astrobiology  2013;13(11):1011-1029.
Abstract
The recently discovered low-density “super-Earths” Kepler-11b, Kepler-11f, Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e, and planets such as GJ 1214b represent the most likely known planets that are surrounded by dense H/He envelopes or contain deep H2O oceans also surrounded by dense hydrogen envelopes. Although these super-Earths are orbiting relatively close to their host stars, they have not lost their captured nebula-based hydrogen-rich or degassed volatile-rich steam protoatmospheres. Thus, it is interesting to estimate the maximum possible amount of atmospheric hydrogen loss from a terrestrial planet orbiting within the habitable zone of late main sequence host stars. For studying the thermosphere structure and escape, we apply a 1-D hydrodynamic upper atmosphere model that solves the equations of mass, momentum, and energy conservation for a planet with the mass and size of Earth and for a super-Earth with a size of 2 REarth and a mass of 10 MEarth. We calculate volume heating rates by the stellar soft X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) and expansion of the upper atmosphere, its temperature, density, and velocity structure and related thermal escape rates during the planet's lifetime. Moreover, we investigate under which conditions both planets enter the blow-off escape regime and may therefore experience loss rates that are close to the energy-limited escape. Finally, we discuss the results in the context of atmospheric evolution and implications for habitability of terrestrial planets in general. Key Words: Stellar activity—Low-mass stars—Early atmospheres—Earth-like exoplanets—Energetic neutral atoms—Ion escape—Habitability. Astrobiology 13, 1011–1029.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0957
PMCID: PMC3865622  PMID: 24251443
15.  Habitable Planets Around White and Brown Dwarfs: The Perils of a Cooling Primary 
Astrobiology  2013;13(3):279-291.
Abstract
White and brown dwarfs are astrophysical objects that are bright enough to support an insolation habitable zone (IHZ). Unlike hydrogen-burning stars, they cool and become less luminous with time; hence their IHZ moves in with time. The inner edge of the IHZ is defined as the orbital radius at which a planet may enter a moist or runaway greenhouse, phenomena that can remove a planet's surface water forever. Thus, as the IHZ moves in, planets that enter it may no longer have any water and are still uninhabitable. Additionally, the close proximity of the IHZ to the primary leads to concern that tidal heating may also be strong enough to trigger a runaway greenhouse, even for orbital eccentricities as small as 10−6. Water loss occurs due to photolyzation by UV photons in the planetary stratosphere, followed by hydrogen escape. Young white dwarfs emit a large amount of these photons, as their surface temperatures are over 104 K. The situation is less clear for brown dwarfs, as observational data do not constrain their early activity and UV emission very well. Nonetheless, both types of planets are at risk of never achieving habitable conditions, but planets orbiting white dwarfs may be less likely to sustain life than those orbiting brown dwarfs. We consider the future habitability of the planet candidates KOI 55.01 and 55.02 in these terms and find they are unlikely to become habitable. Key Words: Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Habitable zone—Tides—Exoplanets. Astrobiology 13, 279–291.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0867
PMCID: PMC3612282  PMID: 23537137
16.  Effects of Extreme Obliquity Variations on the Habitability of Exoplanets 
Astrobiology  2014;14(4):277-291.
Abstract
We explore the impact of obliquity variations on planetary habitability in hypothetical systems with high mutual inclination. We show that large-amplitude, high-frequency obliquity oscillations on Earth-like exoplanets can suppress the ice-albedo feedback, increasing the outer edge of the habitable zone. We restricted our exploration to hypothetical systems consisting of a solar-mass star, an Earth-mass planet at 1 AU, and 1 or 2 larger planets. We verified that these systems are stable for 108 years with N-body simulations and calculated the obliquity variations induced by the orbital evolution of the Earth-mass planet and a torque from the host star. We ran a simplified energy balance model on the terrestrial planet to assess surface temperature and ice coverage on the planet's surface, and we calculated differences in the outer edge of the habitable zone for planets with rapid obliquity variations. For each hypothetical system, we calculated the outer edge of habitability for two conditions: (1) the full evolution of the planetary spin and orbit and (2) the eccentricity and obliquity fixed at their average values. We recovered previous results that higher values of fixed obliquity and eccentricity expand the habitable zone, but we also found that obliquity oscillations further expand habitable orbits in all cases. Terrestrial planets near the outer edge of the habitable zone may be more likely to support life in systems that induce rapid obliquity oscillations as opposed to fixed-spin planets. Such planets may be the easiest to directly characterize with space-borne telescopes. Key Words: Exoplanets—Habitable zone—Energy balance models. Astrobiology 14, 277–291.
doi:10.1089/ast.2013.1129
PMCID: PMC3995117  PMID: 24611714
17.  Abiotic Production of Methane in Terrestrial Planets 
Astrobiology  2013;13(6):550-559.
Abstract
On Earth, methane is produced mainly by life, and it has been proposed that, under certain conditions, methane detected in an exoplanetary spectrum may be considered a biosignature. Here, we estimate how much methane may be produced in hydrothermal vent systems by serpentinization, its main geological source, using the kinetic properties of the main reactions involved in methane production by serpentinization. Hydrogen production by serpentinization was calculated as a function of the available FeO in the crust, given the current spreading rates. Carbon dioxide is the limiting reactant for methane formation because it is highly depleted in aqueous form in hydrothermal vent systems. We estimated maximum CH4 surface fluxes of 6.8×108 and 1.3×109 molecules cm−2 s−1 for rocky planets with 1 and 5 M⊕, respectively. Using a 1-D photochemical model, we simulated atmospheres with volume mixing ratios of 0.03 and 0.1 CO2 to calculate atmospheric methane concentrations for the maximum production of this compound by serpentinization. The resulting abundances were 2.5 and 2.1 ppmv for 1 M⊕ planets and 4.1 and 3.7 ppmv for 5 M⊕ planets. Therefore, low atmospheric concentrations of methane may be produced by serpentinization. For habitable planets around Sun-like stars with N2-CO2 atmospheres, methane concentrations larger than 10 ppmv may indicate the presence of life. Key Words: Serpentinization—Exoplanets—Biosignatures—Planetary atmospheres. Astrobiology 13, 550–559.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0817
PMCID: PMC3689174  PMID: 23742231
18.  MEP and planetary climates: insights from a two-box climate model containing atmospheric dynamics 
A two-box model for equator-to-pole planetary heat transport is extended to include simple atmospheric dynamics. The surface drag coefficient CD is treated as a free parameter and solutions are calculated analytically in terms of the dimensionless planetary parameters η (atmospheric thickness), ω (rotation rate) and ξ (advective capability). Solutions corresponding to maximum entropy production (MEP) are compared with solutions previously obtained from dynamically unconstrained two-box models. As long as the advective capability ξ is sufficiently large, dynamically constrained MEP solutions are identical to dynamically unconstrained MEP solutions. Consequently, the addition of a dynamical constraint does not alter the previously obtained MEP results for Earth, Mars and Titan, and an analogous result is presented here for Venus. The rate of entropy production in an MEP state is shown to be independent of rotation rate if the advective capability ξ is sufficiently large (as for the four examples in the solar system), or if the rotation rate ω is sufficiently small. The model indicates, however, that the dynamical constraint does influence the MEP state when ξ is small, which might be the case for some extrasolar planets. Finally, results from the model developed here are compared with previous numerical simulations in which the effect of varying surface drag coefficient on entropy production was calculated.
doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0297
PMCID: PMC2871900  PMID: 20368254
MEP; planet; atmosphere; entropy
19.  Exomoon Habitability Constrained by Illumination and Tidal Heating 
Astrobiology  2013;13(1):18-46.
Abstract
The detection of moons orbiting extrasolar planets (“exomoons”) has now become feasible. Once they are discovered in the circumstellar habitable zone, questions about their habitability will emerge. Exomoons are likely to be tidally locked to their planet and hence experience days much shorter than their orbital period around the star and have seasons, all of which works in favor of habitability. These satellites can receive more illumination per area than their host planets, as the planet reflects stellar light and emits thermal photons. On the contrary, eclipses can significantly alter local climates on exomoons by reducing stellar illumination. In addition to radiative heating, tidal heating can be very large on exomoons, possibly even large enough for sterilization. We identify combinations of physical and orbital parameters for which radiative and tidal heating are strong enough to trigger a runaway greenhouse. By analogy with the circumstellar habitable zone, these constraints define a circumplanetary “habitable edge.” We apply our model to hypothetical moons around the recently discovered exoplanet Kepler-22b and the giant planet candidate KOI211.01 and describe, for the first time, the orbits of habitable exomoons. If either planet hosted a satellite at a distance greater than 10 planetary radii, then this could indicate the presence of a habitable moon. Key Words: Astrobiology—Extrasolar planets—Habitability—Habitable zone—Tides. Astrobiology 13, 18–46.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0859
PMCID: PMC3549631  PMID: 23305357
20.  ASTER, ALI and Hyperion sensors data for lithological mapping and ore minerals exploration 
SpringerPlus  2014;3:130.
This paper provides a review of the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), Advanced Land Imager (ALI), and Hyperion data and applications of the data as a tool for ore minerals exploration, lithological and structural mapping. Spectral information extraction from ASTER, ALI, and Hyperion data has great ability to assist geologists in all disciplines to map the distribution and detect the rock units exposed at the earth’s surface. The near coincidence of Earth Observing System (EOS)/Terra and Earth Observing One (EO-1) platforms allows acquiring ASTER, ALI, and Hyperion imagery of the same ground areas, resulting accurate information for geological mapping applications especially in the reconnaissance stages of hydrothermal copper and gold exploration, chromite, magnetite, massive sulfide and uranium ore deposits, mineral components of soils and structural interpretation at both regional and district scales. Shortwave length infrared and thermal infrared bands of ASTER have sufficient spectral resolution to map fundamental absorptions of hydroxyl mineral groups and silica and carbonate minerals for regional mapping purposes. Ferric-iron bearing minerals can be discriminated using six unique wavelength bands of ALI spanning the visible and near infrared. Hyperion visible and near infrared bands (0.4 to 1.0 μm) and shortwave infrared bands (0.9 to 2.5 μm) allowed to produce image maps of iron oxide minerals, hydroxyl-bearing minerals, sulfates and carbonates in association with hydrothermal alteration assemblages, respectively. The techniques and achievements reviewed in the present paper can further introduce the efficacy of ASTER, ALI, and Hyperion data for future mineral and lithological mapping and exploration of the porphyry copper, epithermal gold, chromite, magnetite, massive sulfide and uranium ore deposits especially in arid and semi-arid territory.
doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-130
PMCID: PMC4320227
ASTER; ALI; Hyperion; Remote sensors; Ore minerals exploration; Lithological and structural mapping
21.  Mars for Earthlings: An Analog Approach to Mars in Undergraduate Education 
Astrobiology  2014;14(1):42-49.
Abstract
Mars for Earthlings (MFE) is a terrestrial Earth analog pedagogical approach to teaching undergraduate geology, planetary science, and astrobiology. MFE utilizes Earth analogs to teach Mars planetary concepts, with a foundational backbone in Earth science principles. The field of planetary science is rapidly changing with new technologies and higher-resolution data sets. Thus, it is increasingly important to understand geological concepts and processes for interpreting Mars data. MFE curriculum is topically driven to facilitate easy integration of content into new or existing courses. The Earth-Mars systems approach explores planetary origins, Mars missions, rocks and minerals, active driving forces/tectonics, surface sculpting processes, astrobiology, future explorations, and hot topics in an inquiry-driven environment. Curriculum leverages heavily upon multimedia resources, software programs such as Google Mars and JMARS, as well as NASA mission data such as THEMIS, HiRISE, CRISM, and rover images.
Two years of MFE class evaluation data suggest that science literacy and general interest in Mars geology and astrobiology topics increased after participation in the MFE curriculum. Students also used newly developed skills to create a Mars mission team presentation. The MFE curriculum, learning modules, and resources are available online at http://serc.carleton.edu/marsforearthlings/index.html. Key Words: Mars—Geology—Planetary science—Astrobiology—NASA education. Astrobiology 14, 42–49.
doi:10.1089/ast.2013.1037
PMCID: PMC3899945  PMID: 24359289
22.  Tidal Venuses: Triggering a Climate Catastrophe via Tidal Heating 
Astrobiology  2013;13(3):225-250.
Abstract
Traditionally, stellar radiation has been the only heat source considered capable of determining global climate on long timescales. Here, we show that terrestrial exoplanets orbiting low-mass stars may be tidally heated at high-enough levels to induce a runaway greenhouse for a long-enough duration for all the hydrogen to escape. Without hydrogen, the planet no longer has water and cannot support life. We call these planets “Tidal Venuses” and the phenomenon a “tidal greenhouse.” Tidal effects also circularize the orbit, which decreases tidal heating. Hence, some planets may form with large eccentricity, with its accompanying large tidal heating, and lose their water, but eventually settle into nearly circular orbits (i.e., with negligible tidal heating) in the habitable zone (HZ). However, these planets are not habitable, as past tidal heating desiccated them, and hence should not be ranked highly for detailed follow-up observations aimed at detecting biosignatures. We simulated the evolution of hypothetical planetary systems in a quasi-continuous parameter distribution and found that we could constrain the history of the system by statistical arguments. Planets orbiting stars with masses<0.3 MSun may be in danger of desiccation via tidal heating. We have applied these concepts to Gl 667C c, a ∼4.5 MEarth planet orbiting a 0.3 MSun star at 0.12 AU. We found that it probably did not lose its water via tidal heating, as orbital stability is unlikely for the high eccentricities required for the tidal greenhouse. As the inner edge of the HZ is defined by the onset of a runaway or moist greenhouse powered by radiation, our results represent a fundamental revision to the HZ for noncircular orbits. In the appendices we review (a) the moist and runaway greenhouses, (b) hydrogen escape, (c) stellar mass-radius and mass-luminosity relations, (d) terrestrial planet mass-radius relations, and (e) linear tidal theories. Key Words: Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Habitable zone—Liquid water—Tides. Astrobiology 13, 225–250.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0851
PMCID: PMC3612283  PMID: 23537135
23.  Comparability of Red/Near-Infrared Reflectance and NDVI Based on the Spectral Response Function between MODIS and 30 Other Satellite Sensors Using Rice Canopy Spectra 
Sensors (Basel, Switzerland)  2013;13(12):16023-16050.
Long-term monitoring of regional and global environment changes often depends on the combined use of multi-source sensor data. The most widely used vegetation index is the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), which is a function of the red and near-infrared (NIR) spectral bands. The reflectance and NDVI data sets derived from different satellite sensor systems will not be directly comparable due to different spectral response functions (SRF), which has been recognized as one of the most important sources of uncertainty in the multi-sensor data analysis. This study quantified the influence of SRFs on the red and NIR reflectances and NDVI derived from 31 Earth observation satellite sensors. For this purpose, spectroradiometric measurements were performed for paddy rice grown under varied nitrogen levels and at different growth stages. The rice canopy reflectances were convoluted with the spectral response functions of various satellite instruments to simulate sensor-specific reflectances in the red and NIR channels. NDVI values were then calculated using the simulated red and NIR reflectances. The results showed that as compared to the Terra MODIS, the mean relative percentage difference (RPD) ranged from −12.67% to 36.30% for the red reflectance, −8.52% to −0.23% for the NIR reflectance, and −9.32% to 3.10% for the NDVI. The mean absolute percentage difference (APD) compared to the Terra MODIS ranged from 1.28% to 36.30% for the red reflectance, 0.84% to 8.71% for the NIR reflectance, and 0.59% to 9.32% for the NDVI. The lowest APD between MODIS and the other 30 satellite sensors was observed for Landsat5 TM for the red reflectance, CBERS02B CCD for the NIR reflectance and Landsat4 TM for the NDVI. In addition, the largest APD between MODIS and the other 30 satellite sensors was observed for IKONOS for the red reflectance, AVHRR1 onboard NOAA8 for the NIR reflectance and IKONOS for the NDVI. The results also indicated that AVHRRs onboard NOAA7-17 showed higher differences than did the other sensors with respect to MODIS. A series of optimum models were presented for remote sensing data assimilation between MODIS and other sensors.
doi:10.3390/s131216023
PMCID: PMC3892887  PMID: 24287529
canopy reflectance; NDVI; spectral response function; sensor simulation; cross-calibration
24.  Classification Metrics for Improved Atmospheric Correction of Multispectral VNIR Imagery 
Sensors (Basel, Switzerland)  2008;8(11):6999-7011.
Multispectral visible/near-infrared (VNIR) earth observation satellites, e.g., Ikonos, Quickbird, ALOS AVNIR-2, and DMC, usually acquire imagery in a few (3 – 5) spectral bands. Atmospheric correction is a challenging task for these images because the standard methods require at least one shortwave infrared band (around 1.6 or 2.2 μm) or hyperspectral instruments to derive the aerosol optical thickness. New classification metrics for defining cloud, cloud over water, haze, water, and saturation are presented to achieve improvements for an automatic processing system. The background is an ESA contract for the development of a prototype atmospheric processor for the optical payload AVNIR-2 on the ALOS platform.
doi:10.3390/s8116999
PMCID: PMC3787428
Aerosol retrieval; surface reflectance; haze; cloud; water
25.  How does the Earth system generate and maintain thermodynamic disequilibrium and what does it imply for the future of the planet? 
The Earth's chemical composition far from chemical equilibrium is unique in our Solar System, and this uniqueness has been attributed to the presence of widespread life on the planet. Here, I show how this notion can be quantified using non-equilibrium thermodynamics. Generating and maintaining disequilibrium in a thermodynamic variable requires the extraction of power from another thermodynamic gradient, and the second law of thermodynamics imposes fundamental limits on how much power can be extracted. With this approach and associated limits, I show that the ability of abiotic processes to generate geochemical free energy that can be used to transform the surface–atmosphere environment is strongly limited to less than 1 TW. Photosynthetic life generates more than 200 TW by performing photochemistry, thereby substantiating the notion that a geochemical composition far from equilibrium can be a sign for strong biotic activity. Present-day free energy consumption by human activity in the form of industrial activity and human appropriated net primary productivity is of the order of 50 TW and therefore constitutes a considerable term in the free energy budget of the planet. When aiming to predict the future of the planet, we first note that since global changes are closely related to this consumption of free energy, and the demands for free energy by human activity are anticipated to increase substantially in the future, the central question in the context of predicting future global change is then how human free energy demands can increase sustainably without negatively impacting the ability of the Earth system to generate free energy. This question could be evaluated with climate models, and the potential deficiencies in these models to adequately represent the thermodynamics of the Earth system are discussed. Then, I illustrate the implications of this thermodynamic perspective by discussing the forms of renewable energy and planetary engineering that would enhance the overall free energy generation and, thereby ‘empower’ the future of the planet.
doi:10.1098/rsta.2011.0316
PMCID: PMC3261436  PMID: 22291221
habitability; free energy; thermodynamics; global change; geoengineering

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