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article imageOp-Ed: Finding life on other worlds just got a bit easier

By Paul Wallis     Aug 21, 2019 in Science
Ithaca - A new method for detecting bioluminescence from exoplanets may be the way of the future for finding life on these planets and may have applications on Earth.
According to a paper presented to the Royal Astronomical Society by Cornell University, light from M class stars, (the most common stars, also known as red dwarfs or sometimes brown dwarfs), can generate bioluminescent reactions. These reactions can be identified by telescopes using spectral analysis.
Bioluminescence on Earth is well known. It’s used for various purposes, particularly in deep oceans and by some marine organisms. One of the uses is to turn harmful radiation into harmless radiation, by using the spectral shift in the organism to alter the radiation spectrum for absorption.
Stellar flares put out a vast range of radiation, some of which is very dangerous. This defence would be a good all-round option and perhaps a very necessary adaption to hostile radiation environments.
The relatively cool red dwarfs are extremely long-lived stars, but occasionally fire out these big bursts of radiation. They may do so to the point where adaption is the logical evolutionary remedy.
Fortunately, the nearest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is a likely candidate for testing out this theory. It’s only 4.5 light years away, so information would be pretty easy to access and analyse.
Applications on Earth
Bioluminescence and radiation-related adaptions on Earth are pretty common, too. Bioluminescence is a common method for scientific and medical analyses, too, tracking organisms. Some organisms even use it for hunting, evading hunters, communications and as camouflage.
(What if there’s extra non-visual spectrum in bioluminescence, though? Is it possible to detect organisms reacting to radiation like added light or other stimuli? The visible spectrum is never the whole story in any form of light. Bioluminescence may have more stories to tell with wider bandwidths.)
Tricorders, forward!
This tech is clearly at a very early stage of development. It’d be nice to think that it can be adapted to medical uses for disease management, planetary exploration and even around the home for finding moulds and similar organisms. A portable version would be a natural development. The first working tricorder, or at least part of one, was invented in 2007, and software exists to adapt phones to work similarly. It’s not that hard; simply calibrate for specific materials, and use sensors to find it. If you can find the mould in the bathroom with a bioluminescence sensor before it becomes a forest, consider yourself lucky.
I can see this methodology developing in to a vast working framework for all sorts of sensor capacities, including biohazards, biowarfare, etc. Great science, and like all great science, it creates more good science.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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