Can 'Dimers' Be Used For Star Trek's Long Range Sensors?

As much as I loved Star Trek in the 1960's, there were some elements of the series' pseudoscience that made me wince. One of them was the idea of a long range sensor that could detect life readings on distant planets. How could you possibly detect life at a distance of light years?

It turns out that it might be possible after all.

Astronomers have found a way to determine the atmospheric pressure of far away worlds using "dimers", molecules that couple to form larger, more complex molecules. In particular, two oxygen molecules.

We present a new method to probe atmospheric pressure on Earth-like planets using (O2-O2) dimers in the near-infrared. We also show that dimer features could be the most readily detectable biosignatures for Earth-like atmospheres and may even be detectable in transit transmission with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The absorption by dimers changes more rapidly with pressure and density than that of monomers and can therefore provide additional information about atmospheric pressures. By comparing the absorption strengths of rotational and vibrational features to the absorption strengths of dimer features, we show that in some cases it may be possible to estimate the pressure at the reflecting surface of a planet.

This method is demonstrated by using the O2 A band and the 1.06 μm dimer feature, either in transmission or reflected spectra. It works best for planets around M dwarfs with atmospheric pressures between 0.1 and 10 bar and for O2 volume mixing ratios above 50% of Earth's present-day level.

Furthermore, unlike observations of Rayleigh scattering, this method can be used at wavelengths longer than 0.6 μm and is therefore potentially applicable, although challenging, to near-term planet characterization missions such as JWST. We also performed detectability studies for JWST transit transmission spectroscopy and found that the 1.06 and 1.27 μm dimer features could be detectable (SNR>3) for an Earth analogue orbiting an M5V star at a distance of 5 pc.

The detection of these features could provide a constraint on the atmospheric pressure of an exoplanet and serve as biosignatures for oxygenic photosynthesis.

We calculated the required signal-to-noise ratios to detect and characterize O2 monomer and dimer features in direct imaging–reflected spectra and found that signal-to-noise ratios greater than 10 at a spectral resolving power of R=100 would be required.

So, given that this method works (there are others), maybe Spock was right all along.


(Spock long range sensor scan)

From Using Dimers to Measure Biosignatures and Atmospheric Pressure for Terrestrial Exoplanets (pdf) via ScienceMag.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/13/2014)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )

Related News Stories - (" Space Tech ")

Asteroids Threaten Earth? New Study Details Laser Ablation Method
'This obelisk is one huge deflector mechanism...' - Gene Roddenberry, 1968.

Martian Concrete, Rich In Sulphur, Made After Arrival
'We have been mining steadily, and making some photocells...' - John W. Campbell, 1951.

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission
'[Asteroid] Eighty-eight received a series of gentle pats, always on the side headed along her course...' - Robert Heinlein, 1939.

Space Synthetic Biology Grand Challenges
'What better purifying machine is there than a plot of grass?' - George O. Smith,

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Denisovans, Neandertals... And Us?
'But in far realms, among strange hominids, you couldn't shun each other, either.'

Patented! Google's Autonomous Delivery Trucks
I hope Google's trucks can find my house!

3 Parent Embryos Approved By Bioethicists
' A tkan merely courts a mlenb and is attracted to a good guur...'

DIY Armed UAV (Toy)
'Each a television eye and a sonic stunner...'

Tired Of Speeders On Your Block? DIY Speed Tracker!
'There is no danger of a vehicle's speed exceeding that allowed in the section in which it happens to be...'

Centriphone Whirling Selfie Camera
''Tight mid-shot and pull out on but behind me,' he told it...'

Eagles Vs. Drones
'Moon bird's view was... partly blocked by the pyramid, so that he did not see the bird-things dark against the brilliant sky...'

SCiO Scanner Wants You To Be Spock
Almost as easy as a tricorder?

Self-Adapting Composite Heals Itself
'...Could seal the punctures that grain-of-sand-sized meteors might make.'

Rigid Clothing, Or Wearable Furniture?
'Earth's scientists solved the problem to some extent by devising rigid metallic clothing...'

Swarming Intelligent Aquatic Surface Robots Ahoy!
'A remote-controlled emulsion, as it were, with uniform center...'

SuitX Cheap Medical Exoskeleton
'... standing on two corrugated-soled titanium footplates...'

Harvesting Energy From Internal Resonance
'Sometimes a man has a windmill on his roof...'

Sticker Harvests Energy From Your Skin
Another way to harvest power from the body.

Twitter Sarcasm Detected By Computer
Seriously?

Myo-Controlled Prosthetic Arm
'Sensitive actuators touch the tendons in your right wrist.'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.