Color Catalogue Created to Identify Extraterrestrial Life


With the help of microbes found in the subarctic conditions of Canada’s Hudson Bay, a team of international researchers have recently developed the first color spectra catalog to facilitate the search for extraterrestrial signs of life in the cosmos.

“We are assembling the tools to search for life in the universe, so as not to miss it, taking all of Earth’s vibrant biosphere into account – even those in the breathtaking chilled places of our Pale Blue Dot,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, a senior author on the paper, professor of astronomy at Cornell and Director of the Carl Sagan Institute (CSI).

To create the catalog of colors, the team—made up of researchers from Cornell University, Portugal’s Instituto Superior de Agronomia and Técnico and Canada’s Université Laval in Quebec—measured the reflection spectra of 80 microorganisms isolated from ice and water.

The spectra are noted to have a wide range of pigments, which will help astronomers compare frozen worlds against moons and other tinted biological microbes on Earth. According to reports, the catalogue spans visible to near-infrared colors because icy microbial life is well-adapted to the harsh radiation bombardment of space—which can be the norm on distant exoplanets under a red sun.

The color observations will be made using upcoming ground- and space-based telescopes.

“On Earth, vibrant, biological colors in the Arctic represent signatures of life in small, frozen niches,” said lead author Lígia F. Coelho, an astrobiologist and doctoral student at Técnico. According to reports, Coelho grew and measured the frigid, colorful biota taken from ice and water at Kuujjuarapik, Quebec, at CSI.

Kaltenegger added, “When searching for life in the cosmos, microbes in these frozen plains of the Arctic give us crucial insight of what to look for on cold new worlds.”

In further studies, the team found that dried samples of the reflection spectra revealed even higher reflectance than their natural counterparts, suggesting that signatures of surface biota could be more intense on exoplanets and moons that are drier than Earth or on environments like Titan where potential life-forms may use a different solvent.

The study has since been published in the journal Astrobiology and the guide is available online.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Colleges and Universities; Color; Color + Design; Color matching; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Infrared-reflective pigments; Latin America; North America; Pigments; Program/Project Management; Research; Research and development; Z-Continents

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