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Follow the glow to find life in the cosmos

14 Aug 2019, 08:54 UTC
Follow the glow to find life in the cosmos
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M-type dwarf stars are the most common stars in the cosmos and have many exoplanets orbiting their ‘habitable zone’. Image credit: Wendy Kenigsberg/Matt Fondeur/Cornell University
Astronomers seeking life on distant planets may want to go for the glow. Harsh ultraviolet radiation flares from red stars, once thought to destroy surface life on planets, might help uncover hidden biospheres. Their radiation could trigger a protective glow from life on exoplanets called biofluorescence, according to new research from Cornell University, New York, United States.
“Biofluorescent Worlds II: Biological Fluorescence Induced by Stellar UV Flares, a New Temporal Biosignature” was published 13 August 2019 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“This is a completely novel way to search for life in the universe. Just imagine an alien world glowing softly in a powerful telescope,” says lead author Jack O’Malley-James, a researcher at Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute.
“On Earth, there are some undersea coral that use biofluorescence to render the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation into harmless visible wavelengths, creating a beautiful radiance. Maybe such life forms can exist on other worlds too, leaving us a telltale sign to spot them,” says co-author Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy and director of the ...

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