Discovering Life Just Outside of Earth

Exoplanets are Earth-like planets that orbit outside of our solar system. Cornell astronomers, Lisa Kaltenegger and Jack O’Malley-James, are discovering more about exoplanets one light year at a time.

Kaltenegger and O’Mally-James recently published a study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. They found that exoplanets can potentially support life despite the “deadly levels” of ultraviolet radiation.

An exoplanet seems far more pleasant from afar; however, the closer one observes, the more complex it becomes. Proxima-b, for one, has a distance of 4.24 light years from Earth, which is relatively close. The Cornell researchers believe that this exoplanet once contained life, even though it absorbs far more X-ray radiation than Earth.

Earth, at one point, faced similar realities. Approximately four billion years ago, our planet was chaotic, irritated, and an overall hot mess. In spite of that, life was formed and expanded greatly.

The Cornell astronomers have reason to believe that the same crucial circumstances Earth once experienced are exactly what the exoplanets currently face. To present this, they have created models of the surface ultraviolet environments on the four closest, potentially habitable, exoplanets. The planets orbit small, red dwarf objects, which greatly differ from the sun as they flare frequently. Many scientists still think that it is impossible for life to exist on other planets, but the conditions for life on these planets remain unknown.

The researchers' models have different factors, one being the atmosphere. The actual exoplanets absorb high energy radiation. The goal of the models is to pinpoint how their atmospheres compared to Earth’s atmosphere. Some models resemble Earth’s atmosphere, while others are coated in anoxic or thin atmospheres. The models show that as the ozone levels decrease, more high energy radiation reaches the ground.

Having such eager scientists explore and investigate these unknown claims is great for the science community. Lisa Kaltenegger and Jack O’Malley-James are still studying their claims. One day, humans will find out if life truly exists on other planets.