Laughing gas has been called a biosignature of alien life

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside (USA) have called nitrous oxide (N2O), also called laughing gas, biosignature, indicating the existence of living organisms. This is reported in an article published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Researchers calculated how much nitrous oxide could be produced by living things on a planet similar to Earth. They then developed models simulating conditions on such planets orbiting different stars and determined the amount of N2O that could be detected by the James Webb Space Telescope.

There are several pathways through which nitrous oxide is synthesized. Microorganisms continuously convert other nitrogen compounds into N2O during the metabolic process that produces cellular energy. A small amount of nitrous oxide is created by lightning, but it also creates nitrogen dioxide, which may be a sign of non-biological origin of the gas.

Stars, such as K and M dwarfs, produce radiation that is less effective in destroying N2O than solar radiation. In addition, during certain periods of planetary existence, conditions are conducive to the release of biogenic nitrous oxide from the oceans. The combination of these two effects could significantly increase the predicted amount of biosignature gas in the habitable world.

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Liam Johnson

Liam Johnson

Liam Johnson is an astronomer. He has a degree in astronomy. He has extensive experience writing about space: astrophysics, cosmology and celestial mechanics.

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