The atmospheres around exoplanets and brown dwarfs form exotic clouds that, instead of being composed of water droplets, are made of dust particles made of minerals that could give rise to the precursors to life, researchers at the University of St Andrews have revealed.
Dr Craig Stark and colleagues in the School of Physics and Astronomy have studied the atmospheres of alien worlds called exoplanets – those which orbit other stars that are not our Sun; and failed stars (called brown dwarfs – those not big enough to burn properly like the Sun).
Their research, to be published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, found that such electrified dusty environments can lead to the formation of prebiotic molecules – the biological seeds that produce life.
The European Research Council (ERC) funded Life Electricity Atmosphere Planets (LEAP) group – led by the University’s Dr Christiane Helling – has shown that, just like on Earth, these clouds can become charged and lightning can occur, electrifying the atmosphere which can create special gases that contain charged particles (electrons and ions) in these atmospheres.[Full story]