The next decades will see the first atmospheric characterization of potentially habitable planets around other stars, taking the first step in the search for biosignatures beyond the Solar System. The search for spectroscopic signatures of biogenic gases in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets is a pillar of astrobiology and one of the most promising avenues for finding evidence of life beyond the Solar System (NAS, Astro2020). While the road to living worlds stretches decades into the future, the decade in front of us will include discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and other extremely large telescopes that will be distinguished by statistical studies of atmospheres over a broad range of planet and host star properties.
To prepare for the search for life and this epoch of atmospheric characterization, we have assembled an interdisciplinary team with a data-driven approach that focuses on the questions that can be hypothesis tested today to accelerate and support the search for biosignatures in the near future. Our interdisciplinary team proposes a synergistic program of observations, laboratory experiments, and modeling to understand the journey of volatiles, particularly but not limited to carbon and oxygen-containing species, from protoplanetary disks to exoplanet atmospheres.
We address four interrelated questions focused on discrete steps in that journey. Each is discussed in more detail below.
- What is the inventory of volatiles in planetary building blocks?
- What are a planet’s external sources and sinks of volatiles?
- How are volatiles distributed between a planet’s interior and atmosphere/surface?
- What can atmospheric observations tell us about the volatile inventories and chemistries of exoplanets?
Team: Natalie Batalha, Natasha Batalha, Bin Chen, Ian Crossfield, Elena Dobricā, Jonathan Fortney, Tom Greene, Daniel Huber, Gary Huss, Rebecca Jensen-Clem, Meredith MacGregor, Ruth Murray-Clay, Francis Nimmo, Andrew Skemer, Myriam Telus, Jonathan Williams, Xi Zhang