Is there life beyond Earth?

An ideal research program would first ascertain how life on Earth began and then use this as a blueprint for its existence elsewhere. But the origin of life on Earth is still not understood, what then could be the way forward?

Upcoming observations of terrestrial exoplanets provide a unique opportunity for answering this fundamental question through the study of other planetary systems. If we are able to see how physical and chemical environments similar to the early Earth evolve we open a window into our own Hadean eon, despite all information from this time being long lost from our planet’s geological record.

A careful investigation of the chemistry expected on young exoplanets is therefore necessary, and the preparation of reference materials for spectroscopic observations is of paramount importance. In particular, the deduction of chemical markers identifying specific processes and features in exoplanetary environments, ideally “uniquely”. For instance, prebiotic feed-stock molecules, in the form of aerosols and vapours, could be observed in transmission spectra in the near future whilst their surface deposits could be observed from reflectance spectra.

The same detection methods also promise to identify particular intermediates of chemical and physical processes known to be prebiotically plausible. Is Ariel truly able to open a window to the past and answer questions concerning the origin of life on our planet and the universe?

This Working Group will discuss aspects of prebiotic chemistry that will help in formulating future observational and data interpretation strategies for the Ariel mission. It will also open a discussion and motivate future detailed laboratory studies of prebiotic processes on young exoplanets and their chemical signatures.

This group is an ARIEL Mission working group.