NASA predicts nongreen plants on other planets

NASA scientists believe they have found a way to predict the color of plants on planets in other solar systems.

Green, yellow or even red-dominant plants may live on extra-solar planets, according to scientists whose two scientific papers appear in the March issue of the journal, Astrobiology. The scientists studied light absorbed and reflected by organisms on Earth, and determined that if astronomers were to look at the light given off by planets circling distant stars, they might predict that some planets have mostly non-green plants.

"We can identify the strongest candidate wavelengths of light for the dominant color of photosynthesis on another planet," said Nancy Kiang, lead author of the study and a biometeorologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York. Kiang worked with a team of scientists from the Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. VPL was formed as part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), based at the NASA Ames Research Center in Californias Silicon Valley.

"This work broadens our understanding of how life may be detected on Earth-like planets around other stars, while simultaneously improving our understanding of life on Earth," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NAI at NASA Ames. "This approach -- studying Earth life to guide our search for life on other worlds -- is the essence of astrobiology."

Kiang and her colleagues calculated what the stellar light would look like at the surface of Earth-like planets whose atmospheric chemistry is consistent with the different types of stars they orbit. By looking at the changes in that light through different atmospheres, researchers identified colors that would be most favorable for photosynthesis on other planets.

This new research narrows the range of colors that scientists would expect to see when photosynthesis is occurring on extrasolar planets. Each planet will have dif

Contact: Rob Gutro
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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