(ORDO NEWS) — Broccoli, along with other plants and micro-organisms, produces gases that help it flush out toxins. Scientists believe that these gases could provide strong evidence for the existence of life on other planets.
These types of gases form when organisms add carbon and three hydrogen atoms to an unwanted chemical element. This process, called methylation, can turn potential toxins into gases that escape safely into the atmosphere.
If these gases were detected in another planet’s atmosphere using telescopes, they would be suggestive of life somewhere on that planet.
Methyl bromide has a number of advantages over other gases traditionally used in the search for life outside the solar system. In a study published in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists studied its features.
First, methyl bromide remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time than traditional biosignal gases. This suggests that the discovered substance was synthesized recently, which means that its source can still produce this gas.
Secondly, methyl bromide was most likely produced by a living organism, when methane can be produced both by microbes and formed as a result of a volcanic eruption or other geological process.
In addition, methyl bromide absorbs light near the biosignature of its “cousin” methyl chloride, making both substances easier to detect.
Although methyl bromide is extremely common on Earth, it is not easy to detect in our atmosphere due to the intensity of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
The study found that methyl bromide would be easier to detect around an M dwarf star. M dwarfs are smaller and colder than the Sun, and produce less ultraviolet radiation.
This is an advantage for astronomers because M dwarfs are more than 10 times more common than Sun-like stars. They will be the first targets in the upcoming search for life on exoplanets.
For these reasons, the researchers expect astrobiologists to start including methyl bromide in planning future missions and telescope observations.
The James Webb Space Telescope is not particularly optimized for detecting Earth-like planetary atmospheres around other stars.
However, some large ground-based telescopes scheduled to launch later in the decade will be better suited to analyze the composition of these planets’ atmospheres.
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