Earth models will serve as a guide for exoplanet seekers

The search for extraterrestrial planets similar to Earth is one of the hottest topics in modern astronomy. Researchers at Cornell University have created five different Earth models that will better characterize the subsequent rocky planets discovered. Thanks to this, we will be more effective in seeking life in the universe.

Over the next decade, new generation telescopes and observatories will appear on Earth and in space, which will have a power far superior to all currently available observation instruments. With their help, astronomers will explore the universe in a new way and at a completely different level of detail.

Planetary scientists involved in the study of extrasolar planets will get their hands on instruments to analyze the chemical composition of the atmospheres of the nearest extraterrestrial planets, and may be able to determine what conditions prevail on their surfaces.

But how do you say that the planet is similar to Earth?

Over the 4.5 billion years that have passed since the creation of the Earth, the Earth itself and its atmosphere have changed. The chemical composition of the atmosphere surrounding the young Earth was completely different from the composition of the modern atmosphere.

For this reason, Cornell astronomers have created five models representing key points in our planet's evolutionary history. They will serve as a kind of spectral templates for seekers of Earth-like planets in distant planetary systems.

The new generation telescopes in combination with our models will allow us to study Earth-like planets within 50-100 light years - says Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute.

Using Earth as a reference planet, researchers developed templates to characterize the atmospheres of potential Earth-like planets.

Kaltenegger and his PhD students first created a model of the Earth's atmosphere 3.9 billion years ago, a prebiotic Earth surrounded by a dense layer of carbon dioxide. The next model presents an anaerobic planet from 3.5 billion years ago, while the other three document a gradual increase in oxygen abundance in the atmosphere from 0.2% to the current 21%.

Our planet and the air we breathe have changed drastically over 4.5 billion years. We are the first to provide astronomers with the tools to discover planets like ours and determine what stage of evolution they are in - adds Kaltenegger.

The amount of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere has not grown steadily, but if astronomers are able to discover an Earth-like exoplanet with at least 1% of the oxygen present in the Earth's atmosphere, it could potentially be a planet on which biology, ozone and methane are being formed. .

Earth's transmission spectra developed by scientists contain elements indicating to distant observers that the biosphere already existed on Earth 2 billion years ago.

Astronomers will be able to study the atmosphere of rocky planets as soon as the James Webb Space Telescope is in space or when the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) currently under construction in Chile is launched in 2025.

Earth models will serve as a guide for exoplanet seekers


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