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2001 Annual Science Report

Virtual Planetary Laboratory (JPL/CalTech) Reporting  |  JUL 2000 – JUN 2001

Astronomical Detection of Biosignatures From Extrasolar Planets

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Astronomical Detection of Biosignatures from Extrasolar Planets (dm)

Motivated by recent discoveries of a multitude of extrasolar planets, NASA has initiated a series of studies for space-based observatories that will be able to search for life on these worlds. To optimize the designs of these NASA missions, and to ultimately interpret the data that they return, we need to be able to recognize habitable worlds and to discriminate between planets with and without life.

The principal goal of this new research is to learn how to recognize the presence of life on extrasolar planets by identifying the signatures of life in their spectra. To achieve this goal, we will develop a suite of innovative modeling tools to simulate the environments and spectra of extrasolar planets. The modeling tools will constitute a Virtual Planetary Laboratory, which will be used to explore the plausible range of atmospheric compositions and globally-averaged spectra for early Earth, other planets in our solar
system, and for extrasolar planets both with and without life. The results of this research will provide an improved understanding of the range of atmospheric compositions that are possible for planets with and
without life, and will help to quantify the effect of life on the atmospheric spectrum and composition of a planet. The models will also provide a comprehensive spectral catalog, a “menu” of biosignatures,
which will be used to determine the optimum wavelength range, spectral resolution, and sensitivity required to remotely sense the signs of life in the atmosphere or on the surface of another world. This study will provide recommendations for the design and optimization of the search strategies for future NASA planet detecting and characterizing missions such as TPF and Life Finder.

    Victoria Meadows
    Project Investigator

    Mark Allen

    Linda Brown

    Martin Cohen

    David Crisp

    Amir Fijany

    Wesley Huntress

    James Kasting

    Cherilynn Morrow

    Kenneth Nealson

    Mark Richardson

    Robert Rye

    Norman Sleep

    Michael Storrie-Lombardi

    Thangasamy Velusamy

    Yuk Yung

    Kevin Zahnle

    Keliann LaPorte
    Doctoral Student

    Objective 5.0
    Describe the sequences of causes and effects associated with the development of Earth's early biosphere and the global environment.

    Objective 6.0
    Define how ecophysiological processes structure microbial communities, influence their adaptation and evolution, and affect their detection on other planets.

    Objective 12.0
    Define climatological and geological effects upon the limits of habitable zones around the Sun and other stars to help define the frequency of habitable planets in the universe.

    Objective 13.0
    Define an array of astronomically detectable spectroscopic features that indicate habitable conditions and/or the presence of life on an extrasolar planet.

    Objective 14.0
    Determine the resilience of local and global ecosystems through their response to natural and human-induced disturbances.