Study: Life might survive, and thrive, in a hydrogen world

Monday, May 4, 2020 - 11:40 in Astronomy & Space

As new and more powerful telescopes blink on in the next few years, astronomers will be able to aim the megascopes at nearby exoplanets, peering into their atmospheres to decipher their composition and to seek signs of extraterrestrial life. But imagine if, in our search, we did encounter alien organisms but failed to recognize them as actual life. That’s a prospect that astronomers like Sara Seager hope to avoid. Seager, the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science, Physics, and Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, is looking beyond a “terra-centric” view of life and casting a wider net for what kinds of environments beyond our own might actually be habitable. In a paper published today in the journal Nature Astronomy, she and her colleagues have observed in laboratory studies that microbes can survive and thrive in atmospheres that are dominated by hydrogen — an environment that is vastly different from Earth’s nitrogen-...

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