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Oxygen on Venus-Like Planet Does Not Make it Habitable

Aug 19, 2016 01:07 PM EDT
GJ 1132b
A new study revealed that the exoplanet GJ 1132b can not support life, despite having oxygen and atmosphere.
(Photo : By 경향 신문 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

A new study revealed that the first rocky planet beyond our solar system containing oxygen might not be suitable for life.

The study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, showed that the Venus-like planet, about 39 light years away from Earth, might have a thin and wispy atmosphere, indicating the presence of oxygen.

"On cooler planets, oxygen could be a sign of alien life and habitability," said Laura Schaefer, an astronomer at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and lead author of the study, in a statement. But on a hot planet like GJ 1132b, it's a sign of the exact opposite - a planet that's being baked and sterilized."

For the study, the researchers assumed that GJ1132b began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere. With an extremely close orbit to its host star, approximately 1.4 million miles, the planet could be bombarded with ultraviolet light. The water molecules in the atmosphere of the planet would be broken apart by the UV light into hydrogen and oxygen. Because hydrogen is lighter, it could escape into space readily, while some of the oxygen could linger behind.

Water vapor could act as a powerful greenhouse gas, trapping the intense heat of the host star inside GJ113b. Due to this, the surface of the planet could stay molten for millions of years.

Using a magma ocean-atmosphere model, the researchers believe that a magma ocean could interact with the atmosphere by absorbing about 10 percent of the oxygen, while the remaining 90 percent may stream off to space or linger around the planet.

With their findings, researchers could catch some glimpse on how the planet Venus evolved. Previous study suggests that Venus might contain Earth-like amounts of water in its early life and was broken down by the sunlight. However, Venus shows few signs of lingering oxygen.

To confirm if GJ1132b have some oxygen lingering in its atmosphere, researchers need to observe the planet using next-generation telescope like the Giant Magellan Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope to detect and analyze it.

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