Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Sensitive probing of exoplanetary oxygen via mid-infrared collisional absorption

Abstract

The collision-induced fundamental vibration–rotation band at 6.4 μm is the strongest absorption feature from O2 in the infrared1,2,3, yet it has not been previously incorporated into exoplanet spectral analyses for several reasons. Either collision-induced absorptions (CIAs) were not included or incomplete/obsolete CIA databases were used. Also, the current version of HITRAN does not include CIAs at 6.4 μm with other collision partners (O2–X). We include O2–X CIA features in our transmission spectroscopy simulations by parameterizing the 6.4-μm O2–N2 CIA based on ref. 3 and the O2–CO2 CIA based on ref. 4. Here we report that the O2–X CIA may be the most detectable O2 feature for transit observations. For a potential TRAPPIST-1 e analogue system within 5 pc of the Sun, it could be the only O2 signature detectable with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) (using MIRI LRS (Mid-Infrared Instrument low-resolution spectrometer)) for a modern Earth-like cloudy atmosphere with biological quantities of O2. Also, we show that the 6.4-μm O2–X CIA would be prominent for O2-rich desiccated atmospheres5 and could be detectable with JWST in just a few transits. For systems beyond 5 pc, this feature could therefore be a powerful discriminator of uninhabited planets with non-biological ‘false-positive’ O2 in their atmospheres, as they would only be detectable at these higher O2 pressures.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Earth-like transmission spectra of TRAPPIST-1 e.
Fig. 2: Number of TRAPPIST-1 e transits needed for a 5σ detection of the O2 A band (R = 100), the O2–O2 CIA at 1.27 μm (R = 100) and the O2–X CIA at 6.4 μm (R = 30) with JWST for the TRAPPIST-1 system moved from its distance from the Sun (12.1 pc) to 2 pc.
Fig. 3: Transmission spectra for a 1-bar O2 desiccated atmosphere on TRAPPIST-1 e assuming various isothermal profiles.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Code availability

Atmos8 is available on request from G.A. (giada.n.arney@nasa.gov); LMD-G7 is available on request from M.T. (martin.turbet@lmd.jussieu.fr); PSG6 is available at https://psg.gsfc.nasa.gov/

References

  1. 1.

    Timofeyev, Y. & Tonkov, M. Effect of the induced oxygen absorption bond on the transformation of radiation in the 6 μm region. lzv. Acad. Sci. USSR Atmos. Ocean. Phys. 14, 614–620 (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Rinsland, C. P. et al. Stratospheric measurements of collision-induced absorption by molecular oxygen. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 87, 3119–3122 (1982).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Rinsland, C. P., Zander, R., Namkung, J. S., Farmer, C. B. & Norton, R. H. Stratospheric infrared continuum absorptions observed by the ATMOS instrument. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 94, 16303–16322 (1989).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Baranov, Y. I., Lafferty, W. & Fraser, G. Infrared spectrum of the continuum and dimer absorption in the vicinity of the O2 vibrational fundamental in O2/CO2 mixtures. J. Mol. Spectrosc. 228, 432–440 (2004).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Luger, R. & Barnes, R. Extreme water loss and abiotic O2 buildup on planets throughout the habitable zones of M dwarfs. Astrobiology 15, 119–143 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Villanueva, G. L., Smith, M. D., Protopapa, S., Faggi, S. & Mandell, A. M. Planetary Spectrum Generator: an accurate online radiative transfer suite for atmospheres, comets, small bodies and exoplanets. J. Quant. Spectrosc. Radiat. Transf. 217, 86–104 (2018).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Wordsworth, R. D. et al. Gliese 581d is the first discovered terrestrial-mass exoplanet in the habitable zone. Astrophys. J. Lett. 733, L48 (2011).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Arney, G. et al. The pale orange dot: the spectrum and habitability of hazy Archean Earth. Astrobiology 16, 873–899 (2016).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Lincowski, A. P. et al. Evolved climates and observational discriminants for the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. Astrophys. J. 867, 76 (2018).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Lustig-Yaeger, J., Meadows, V. S. & Lincowski, A. P. The detectability and characterization of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanet atmospheres with JWST. Astron. J. 158, 27 (2019).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Gillon, M. et al. Seven temperate terrestrial planets around the nearby ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. Nature 542, 456–460 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Misra, A., Meadows, V., Claire, M. & Crisp, D. Using dimers to measure biosignatures and atmospheric pressure for terrestrial exoplanets. Astrobiology 14, 67–86 (2014).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Wordsworth, R. & Pierrehumbert, R. Abiotic oxygen-dominated atmospheres on terrestrial habitable zone planets. Astrophys. J, 785, L20 (2014).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Schwieterman, E. W. et al. Identifying planetary biosignature impostors: spectral features of CO and O4 resulting from abiotic O2/O3 production. Astrophys. J. 819, L13 (2016).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Meadows, V. S. Reflections on O2 as a biosignature in exoplanetary atmospheres. Astrobiology 17, 1022–1052 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Meadows, V. S. et al. Exoplanet biosignatures: understanding oxygen as a biosignature in the context of its environment. Astrobiology 18, 630–662 (2018).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Des Marais, D. J. et al. Remote sensing of planetary properties and biosignatures on extrasolar terrestrial planets. Astrobiology 2, 153–181 (2002).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Kasting, J. F., Whitmire, D. P. & Reynolds, R. T. Habitable zones around main sequence stars. Icarus 101, 108–128 (1993).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Kopparapu, R. K. et al. Habitable zones around main-sequence stars: new estimates. Astrophys. J. 765, 131 (2013).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Kopparapu, R. K. et al. Habitable zones around main-sequence stars: dependence on planetary mass. Astrophys. J. 787, L29 (2014).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Grimm, S. L. et al. The nature of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets. Astron. Astrophys. 613, A68 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Zmuidzinas, J. Thermal noise and correlations in photon detection. Appl. Opt. 42, 4989–5008 (2003).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Thibault, F. et al. Infrared collision-induced absorption by O2 near 6.4 μm for atmospheric applications: measurements and empirical modeling. Appl. Opt. 36, 563–567 (1997).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Hopfner, M., Milz, M., Buehler, S., Orphal, J. & Stiller, G. The natural greenhouse effect of atmospheric oxygen (O2) and nitrogen (N2). Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L10706 (2012).

  25. 25.

    Gordon, I. et al. The HITRAN2016 molecular spectroscopic database. J. Quant. Spectrosc. Radiat. Transf. 203, 3–69 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

T.J.F., G.L.V., G.A., R.K.K., A.M. and S.D.D.-G. acknowledge support from the GSFC Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration (SEEC), which is funded in part by the NASA Planetary Science Divisions Internal Scientist Funding Model. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement 832738/ESCAPE. This work was also supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute Alternative Earths team under Cooperative Agreement NNA15BB03A and the NExSS Virtual Planetary Laboratory under NASA grant 80NSSC18K0829. E.W.S. is additionally grateful for support from the NASA Postdoctoral Program, administered by the Universities Space Research Association. We thank H. Tran for useful discussions related to O2–X CIAs.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

T.J.F. led the photochemistry and transmission spectroscopy simulations. G.L.V., E.W.S. and M.T. derived parameterizations of the O2–N2 and O2–CO2 CIA bands. T.J.F. and G.A. wrote most of the manuscript. All the authors contributed to the discussions and to the writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas J. Fauchez.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Astronomy thanks Sergei Yurchenko and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1-3, Table 1, text and references.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fauchez, T.J., Villanueva, G.L., Schwieterman, E.W. et al. Sensitive probing of exoplanetary oxygen via mid-infrared collisional absorption. Nat Astron 4, 372–376 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0977-7

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing