Color catalog could help scientists find aliens

The colors of light coming from the surface of exoplanets could help scientists locate extraterrestrial life, thanks to a new database created by a team of researchers.

When searching for extraterrestrial life, astrobiologists typically look for the type of life we know and understand–something similar to the life forms on Earth. So scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Cornell University, and the NASA Ames Research Center, created a color catalog that contains reflection color signatures of Earth life that might be found on the surface of alien worlds.

“It is likely that life on exoplanets evolves through single-celled stages prior to multicellular creatures,” the research team explains. “Here, we present the first database for a diverse range of life — including extremophiles (organisms living in extreme conditions) found in the most inhospitable environments on Earth — for such surface features in preparation for the next generation of telescopes that will search for a wide variety of life on exoplanets.”

According to a Cornell University press release, The team “gathered the cultures of 137 cellular life forms that range from Bacillus gathered at the Sonoran Desert to Halorubrum chaoviator found at Baja California, Mexico, to Oocystis minuta, obtained in an oyster pond at Martha’s Vineyard.”

Eight of the 137 microorganism samples used to measure biosignatures for the catalog of reflection signatures of Earth life forms. (Credit: Hegde/Max Planck Institute)

Eight of the 137 microorganism samples used to measure biosignatures for the catalog of reflection signatures of Earth life forms. (Credit: Hegde/Max Planck Institute)

“Our results show the amazing diversity of life that one can detect remotely on exoplanets,” explains one of the team’s research associates. “We explore for the first time the reflection signatures of a diversity of pigmented microorganisms isolated from various environments on Earth — including extreme ones — which will provide a more broad guide, based on Earth life, for the search for surface features of extraterrestrial life.”

All 137 types of life forms in the catalog can be seen at http://biosignatures.astro.cornell.edu

The teams research was published in a paper in the March 16 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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