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1.  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
2.  Habitability in Different Milky Way Stellar Environments: A Stellar Interaction Dynamical Approach 
Astrobiology  2013;13(5):491-509.
Abstract
Every Galactic environment is characterized by a stellar density and a velocity dispersion. With this information from literature, we simulated flyby encounters for several Galactic regions, numerically calculating stellar trajectories as well as orbits for particles in disks; our aim was to understand the effect of typical stellar flybys on planetary (debris) disks in the Milky Way Galaxy.
For the solar neighborhood, we examined nearby stars with known distance, proper motions, and radial velocities. We found occurrence of a disturbing impact to the solar planetary disk within the next 8 Myr to be highly unlikely; perturbations to the Oort cloud seem unlikely as well. Current knowledge of the full phase space of stars in the solar neighborhood, however, is rather poor; thus we cannot rule out the existence of a star that is more likely to approach than those for which we have complete kinematic information. We studied the effect of stellar encounters on planetary orbits within the habitable zones of stars in more crowded stellar environments, such as stellar clusters. We found that in open clusters habitable zones are not readily disrupted; this is true if they evaporate in less than 108 yr. For older clusters the results may not be the same. We specifically studied the case of Messier 67, one of the oldest open clusters known, and show the effect of this environment on debris disks. We also considered the conditions in globular clusters, the Galactic nucleus, and the Galactic bulge-bar. We calculated the probability of whether Oort clouds exist in these Galactic environments. Key Words: Stellar interactions—Galactic habitable zone—Oort cloud. Astrobiology 13, 491–509.
doi:10.1089/ast.2012.0842
PMCID: PMC3657288  PMID: 23659647
3.  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
4.  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

Results 1-4 (4)