. 24/7 Space News .
Sulfur 'spices' alien atmospheres
by Staff Writers
Baltimore MD (SPX) Apr 07, 2020

Chao He and Sarah Horst study exoplanet atmospheres at The Johns Hopkins University.

They say variety is the spice of life, and now new discoveries from Johns Hopkins researchers suggest that a certain elemental 'variety' - sulfur - is indeed a 'spice' that can perhaps point to signs of life.

These findings from the researchers' lab simulations reveal that sulfur can significantly impact observations of far-flung planets beyond the solar system; the results have implications for the use of sulfur as a sign for extraterrestrial life, as well as affect how researchers should interpret data about planetary atmospheres.

A report of the findings was published in Nature Astronomy.

"We found that just a small presence of sulfur in the atmosphere, less than 2%, can have major impacts on what, and how many, haze particles are formed," says Chao He, an assistant research scientist in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University and the study's first author.

"This entirely changes what scientists should look for and expect when they examine atmospheres on planets beyond our solar system."

While scientists already know that sulfur gases influence the photochemistry of many planets within the solar system such as Earth, Venus and Jupiter, not much is known about sulfur's role in the atmospheres of planets beyond the solar system, or exoplanets.

Due to its role as an essential element for life on Earth - emitted from plants and bacteria, and found in several amino acids and enzymes - scientists propose to use sulfur products to search for life beyond Earth. Understanding whether sulfur exists and how it affects these atmospheres can help scientists determine whether sulfur gases could be used as a source for life to originate, says He.

Researchers have performed few studies simulating planetary atmospheres with sulfur in the lab due to its high reactivity and difficulty to clean up once an experiment is done, says He. In fact, sulfur is so reactive that it would have even reacted with the experimental setup itself, so the research team had to upgrade their equipment to properly tolerate sulfur. To He's knowledge, only three other studies that simulated sulfur chemistry in the lab exist, and those were to understand its role in Earth's atmosphere; this is the first lab-run simulation to study sulfur in exoplanet atmospheres.

Chao and colleagues performed two sets of experiments using carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, water and helium as a guide for their initial gas mixtures. One experiment included 1.6% sulfur in the mix and the other did not. The research team performed the simulation experiments in a specially designed Planetary HAZE (PHAZER) chamber in the lab of Sarah Horst, assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and second author on the paper.

Once in the chamber, the team exposed the gas mixtures to one of two energy sources: plasma from an alternating current glow discharge or light from an ultraviolet lamp. Plasma, an energy source stronger than UV light, can simulate electrical activities like lightning and/or energetic particles, and UV light is the main driver of chemical reactions in planetary atmospheres such as those on Earth, Saturn and Pluto.

After analyzing for solid particles and gas products formed, He and colleagues found that the mixture with sulfur had three times more haze particles, or solid particles suspended in gas.

Chao's team found that most of these particles were organic sulfur products rather than sulfuric acid or octasulfur, which researchers previously believed would make up the majority of sulfur particles on exoplanets.

"This new information means that if you're trying to observe an exoplanet's atmosphere and analyze its spectra, when you previously expected to see other products, you should now expect to see these organic sulfur products instead. Or, at least, you should know that it wouldn't be unusual for them to be there. This would change researchers' explanation and interpretation of spectra they see," says He.

Similarly, the findings should direct researchers to expect more haze particles if they are observing exoplanet atmospheres with sulfur, as just a small bit of sulfur increases haze production rate by three. Again, this would change how researchers interpret their findings and could be critical for future observation of exoplanets.

The last major implication of his findings, He says, is they push for heightened awareness that many sulfur products can be produced in the lab, in the absence of life, so scientists should be caution and rule out photochemically-produced sulfur before suggesting sulfur's presence as a sign for life.

Related Links
Johns Hopkins University
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth

Thanks for being there;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

Warped Space-time to Help WFIRST Find Exoplanets
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Mar 31, 2020
NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will search for planets outside our solar system toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy, where most stars are. Studying the properties of exoplanet worlds will help us understand what planetary systems throughout the galaxy are like and how planets form and evolve. Combining WFIRST's findings with results from NASA's Kepler and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) missions will complete the first planet census that is sensitive to a w ... read more

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Oita Partners with Virgin Orbit to establish first horizontal spaceport in Asia

Revisiting decades-old Voyager 2 data, scientists find one more secret

Five MIT payloads deployed on the International Space Station

Coronavirus pandemic will not cause delays in ISS crew return says Roscosmos

SpaceX parachute test aborted weeks before planned manned launch - report

NASA Adds Shannon Walker to First Operational Crewed SpaceX Mission

NASA, SpaceX Simulate Upcoming Crew Mission with Astronauts

Hypersonic surfing at ESA

Bacteria in rock deep under sea inspire new search for life on Mars

NASA Shows Perseverance with Helicopter, Cruise Stage Testing

Over 10 million names now aboard Perseverance rover bound for Mars

Choosing rocks on Mars to bring to Earth

China to launch IoT communications satellites named after Wuhan

China's experimental manned spaceship undergoes tests

China's Long March-7A carrier rocket fails in maiden flight

China's Yuanwang-5 sails to Pacific Ocean for space monitoring mission

Space missions return to science

NewSpace Philosophies: Who, How, What?

OneWeb files for bankruptcy over financial squeeze

China to launch communication satellite for Indonesia

DLR retrofits 3D printer to produce medical protective equipment

Technique reveals how crystals form on surfaces

Airbus completes In Orbit Commissioning of CHEOPS

L3Harris Technologies to modernize US capabilities to detect orbital objects

Disinfection for planetary protection

Humans are not the first to repurpose CRISPR

Salmon parasite is world's first non-oxygen breathing animal

Warped Space-time to Help WFIRST Find Exoplanets

Jupiter's Great Red Spot shrinking in size, not thickness

Researchers find new minor planets beyond Neptune

Ultraviolet instrument delivered for ESA's Jupiter mission

One Step Closer to the Edge of the Solar System

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.