Johns Hopkins University Researchers Recreate Exoplanet Atmospheric Chemistry In The Lab

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have succeeded in recreating the “alien environments” in a laboratory setting. According to researchers, they were able to simulate the atmosphere of nine potential alien worlds with the help of distinctive gas mixtures rich in carbon dioxide, hydrogen, water vapors, etc.

“We’re really excited to figure out where particles form, what they’re made out of, and what that means for organic inventories for the origin of life,” Dr. Sarah Hörst, the lead researcher of the study, told the BBC News.

“I think we are going to learn a lot about [our] Solar System from doing these experiments. We don’t want to learn about just one planet; we want to learn how planets work.”

According to Dr. Sarah Hörst, the primary aim of this study was to understand whether a layer of haze on a planet would make it more or less habitable.

In the study, scientists prepared different types of gas mixtures, which were exposed to a cold plasma discharge. This initiated chemical processes within the mixtures and produced hazes similar to the modeled environments of distant planets. Scientists were amazed to see that chemical processes in different mixtures produced hazes of different colors. While one haze was purple in color, another was a distinct olive green haze.

Researchers stored these simulated atmospheres in a dry nitrogen glove box to avoid their contamination from Earth’s atmosphere. The composition of these haze particles would now be analyzed in detail.

Haze is a common phenomenon on many planets and is formed by the particles dispersed in the air. For example, particles on Saturn’s atmosphere create a thick cover of haze over it, which eventually makes the planet appear relatively dull compared to Jupiter, its larger neighbor. Presence of clouds and hazes on a planet can influence the surface temperature as well as the atmospheric chemistry of the planet.

Dr. Sarah Hörst says this new study would help in ruling out erroneous organic signatures related to distant planets and would also allow researchers to better understand how a planet, potentially hosting some life forms, would look like. The study would also help in understating upcoming observations of exoplanets with the James Webb Space Telescope which NASA expects to launch sometime next year.

The detailed findings of the study were published in Nature Astronomy.