Strange airstreams observed on some exoplanets have forced scientists to adjust their research strategies on new, potentially inhabitable planets. A study by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, in collaboration with the Catholic University of Leuven, suggests that, on planets outside the solar system, the composition of the atmosphere is not the same everywhere, the University of Leuven said in a communique.
For some years now, scientists have been looking for life on exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system that orbit a star. The researchers analyze, for example, the composition of the atmosphere on these planets and if they notice the presence of chemicals such as oxygen or ozone, there is a stronger chance that there is life on the planet’s surface.
Researchers Ludmila Carone and Leen Decin (of the Max Planck Institute and the Catholic University Leuven respectively) along with their colleagues have found that these chemicals are perhaps better hidden than previously thought. The researchers examined how ozone permeated the atmosphere of close exoplanets that have the potential to support life, Proxima Centauri b and TRAPPIST-1d and b. On each of these planets, the same side always faces the sun. As a result, each has an eternal warm “day” and an eternal cold “night”, which has a big influence on air flows.
“On Earth, air flows from the Equator towards the poles, so the ozone is well distributed in our atmosphere throughout the planet,” Leen Decin explains. “On Proxima Centauri b and TRAPPIST-1d and 1b, the air flows from the poles to the equator, so the ozone builds up at the Equator.
“If chemicals that can indicate the presence of life are not found in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, that does not necessarily mean these elements are not there. Maybe they are not distributed throughout the planet, but are concentrated in given locations that we have not yet observed or cannot observe.”
The study was published on Wednesday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society scientific magazine.