The challenge of finding life out there

Image of planets

The search for life on planets outside our solar system may be more difficult than previously thought according to a recent study led by UTSC Assistant Professor Hanno Rein.

The issue lies in the method used to detect biosignatures on exoplanets that Rein and his team discovered can produce a false-positive result.

Biosignatures represent the presence of multiple chemicals such as methane and oxygen in a planet’s atmosphere that can be evidence of past or present life.

Rein’s team discovered that a lifeless planet with a lifeless moon can mimic the same results as a planet with a biosignature. The resolution needed to properly identify a genuine biosignature from a false positive would be impossible to obtain even with telescopes available in the foreseeable future.

But Rein is optimistic the search for life on planets outside our own solar system within our lifetime may be possible if done the right way. “We should make sure we are looking at the right objects,” he says. “A good start would be to broaden the search and study planets around stars that are cooler and fainter than our own sun.”