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Astrobiology. 2007 Feb;7(1):252-74.

Spectral signatures of photosynthesis. II. Coevolution with other stars and the atmosphere on extrasolar worlds.

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NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York 10025, USA.


As photosynthesis on Earth produces the primary signatures of life that can be detected astronomically at the global scale, a strong focus of the search for extrasolar life will be photosynthesis, particularly photosynthesis that has evolved with a different parent star. We take previously simulated planetary atmospheric compositions for Earth-like planets around observed F2V and K2V, modeled M1V and M5V stars, and around the active M4.5V star AD Leo; our scenarios use Earth's atmospheric composition as well as very low O2 content in case anoxygenic photosynthesis dominates. With a line-by-line radiative transfer model, we calculate the incident spectral photon flux densities at the surface of the planet and under water. We identify bands of available photosynthetically relevant radiation and find that photosynthetic pigments on planets around F2V stars may peak in absorbance in the blue, K2V in the red-orange, and M stars in the near-infrared, in bands at 0.93-1.1 microm, 1.1-1.4 microm, 1.5-1.8 microm, and 1.8-2.5 microm. However, underwater organisms will be restricted to wavelengths shorter than 1.4 microm and more likely below 1.1 microm. M star planets without oxygenic photosynthesis will have photon fluxes above 1.6 microm curtailed by methane. Longer-wavelength, multi-photo-system series would reduce the quantum yield but could allow for oxygenic photosystems at longer wavelengths. A wavelength of 1.1 microm is a possible upper cutoff for electronic transitions versus only vibrational energy; however, this cutoff is not strict, since such energetics depend on molecular configuration. M star planets could be a half to a tenth as productive as Earth in the visible, but exceed Earth if useful photons extend to 1.1 microm for anoxygenic photosynthesis. Under water, organisms would still be able to survive ultraviolet flares from young M stars and acquire adequate light for growth.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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