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1.  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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3522229  PMID: 23215581
3.  The Kelvin–Helmholtz instability at Venus: What is the unstable boundary? 
Icarus  2011;216(2):476-484.
► We study the Kelvin–Helmholtz instability at boundary layers around of Venus. ► The stability of the induced magnetopause and the ionopause is examined. ► The ionopause seems to be stable due to a large density jump across this boundary. ► The instability evolves into its nonlinear phase on the magnetopause at solar maximum. ► Loss rates are therefore lower than previously assumed.
The Kelvin–Helmholtz instability gained scientific attention after observations at Venus by the spacecraft Pioneer Venus Orbiter gave rise to speculations that the instability contributes to the loss of planetary ions through the formation of plasma clouds. Since then, a handful of studies were devoted to the Kelvin–Helmholtz instability at the ionopause and its implications for Venus. The aim of this study is to investigate the stability of the two instability-relevant boundary layers around Venus: the induced magnetopause and the ionopause. We solve the 2D magnetohydrodynamic equations with the total variation diminishing Lax–Friedrichs algorithm and perform simulation runs with different initial conditions representing the situation at the boundary layers around Venus. Our results show that the Kelvin–Helmholtz instability does not seem to be able to reach its nonlinear vortex phase at the ionopause due to the very effective stabilizing effect of a large density jump across this boundary layer. This seems also to be true for the induced magnetopause for low solar activity. During high solar activity, however, there could occur conditions at the induced magnetopause which are in favour of the nonlinear evolution of the instability. For this situation, we estimated roughly a growth rate for planetary oxygen ions of about 7.6 × 1025 s−1, which should be regarded as an upper limit for loss due to the Kelvin–Helmholtz instability.
PMCID: PMC3280700  PMID: 22347723
Magnetospheres; Solar wind; Venus
4.  Investigating the Effects of Simulated Martian Ultraviolet Radiation on Halococcus dombrowskii and Other Extremely Halophilic Archaebacteria 
Astrobiology  2009;9(1):104-112.
The isolation of viable extremely halophilic archaea from 250-million-year-old rock salt suggests the possibility of their long-term survival under desiccation. Since halite has been found on Mars and in meteorites, haloarchaeal survival of martian surface conditions is being explored. Halococcus dombrowskii H4 DSM 14522T was exposed to UV doses over a wavelength range of 200–400 nm to simulate martian UV flux. Cells embedded in a thin layer of laboratory-grown halite were found to accumulate preferentially within fluid inclusions. Survival was assessed by staining with the LIVE/DEAD kit dyes, determining colony-forming units, and using growth tests. Halite-embedded cells showed no loss of viability after exposure to about 21 kJ/m2, and they resumed growth in liquid medium with lag phases of 12 days or more after exposure up to 148 kJ/m2. The estimated D37 (dose of 37 % survival) for Hcc. dombrowskii was ≥ 400 kJ/m2. However, exposure of cells to UV flux while in liquid culture reduced D37 by 2 orders of magnitude (to about 1 kJ/m2); similar results were obtained with Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 and Haloarcula japonica. The absorption of incoming light of shorter wavelength by color centers resulting from defects in the halite crystal structure likely contributed to these results. Under natural conditions, haloarchaeal cells become embedded in salt upon evaporation; therefore, dispersal of potential microscopic life within small crystals, perhaps in dust, on the surface of Mars could resist damage by UV radiation.
PMCID: PMC3182532  PMID: 19215203
Halococcus dombrowskii; Simulated martian UV radiation; LIVE/DEAD staining; Halite fluid inclusions; UV transmittance and reflectance; Desiccation
5.  Implications of a 3.472–3.333 Gyr-old subaerial microbial mat from the Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa for the UV environmental conditions on the early Earth 
Modelling suggests that the UV radiation environment of the early Earth, with DNA weighted irradiances of about three orders of magnitude greater than those at present, was hostile to life forms at the surface, unless they lived in specific protected habitats. However, we present empirical evidence that challenges this commonly held view. We describe a well-developed microbial mat that formed on the surface of volcanic littoral sediments in an evaporitic environment in a 3.5–3.3 Ga-old formation from the Barberton greenstone belt. Using a multiscale, multidisciplinary approach designed to strongly test the biogenicity of potential microbial structures, we show that the mat was constructed under flowing water by 0.25 μm filaments that produced copious quantities of extracellular polymeric substances, representing probably anoxygenic photosynthesizers. Associated with the mat is a small colony of rods–vibroids that probably represent sulphur-reducing bacteria. An embedded suite of evaporite minerals and desiccation cracks in the surface of the mat demonstrates that it was periodically exposed to the air in an evaporitic environment. We conclude that DNA-damaging UV radiation fluxes at the surface of the Earth at this period must either have been low (absorbed by CO2, H2O, a thin organic haze from photo-dissociated CH4, or SO2 from volcanic outgassing; scattered by volcanic, and periodically, meteorite dust, as well as by the upper layers of the microbial mat) and/or that the micro-organisms exhibited efficient gene repair/survival strategies.
PMCID: PMC1664690  PMID: 17008224
Early Mid Archaean; Barberton; microfossils; littoral zone; UV environment

Results 1-5 (5)