Earth observations show how nitrogen may be detected on exoplanets, aiding search for life

The Earth as seen by the Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite, July 2015 (NASA).

VPL graduate student Edward Schwieterman, professor Victoria Meadows, and researchers Tyler Robinson, Amit Misra, and Shawn Domagal-Goldman have demonstrated that the collisional absorption signature of nitrogen gas can be detected in Earth’s disk-averaged spectrum and have modeled how it would appear on Earth-like exoplanets. Usually, nitrogen is considered an “invisible gas” because it lacks normal spectral features.  Detection of nitrogen would provide a means to characterize the bulk atmosphere of potentially habitable exoplanets and constrain the likelihood of oxygen production by non-living processes. The paper has been published in The Astrophysical Journal here. Read more about the news article at UW Today.