Carbon monoxide detectors in our homes warn of a dangerous buildup of that colorless, odorless gas we normally associate with death. Astronomers, too, have generally assumed that a build-up of carbon monoxide in a planet’s atmosphere would be a sure sign of lifelessness. Now, a UC Riverside-led research team is arguing the opposite: celestial carbon monoxide detectors may actually alert us to a distant world teeming with simple life forms.
“With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope two years from now, astronomers will be able to analyze the atmospheres of some rocky exoplanets,” said Edward Schwieterman, the study’s lead author and a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow in UCR’s Department of Earth Sciences. “It would be a shame to overlook an inhabited world because we did not consider all the possibilities.”