James Webb Space Telescope Could Look for "Laughing Gas" to Locate Alian Life

By Aazam

Nitrous oxide can act as a biosignature in exoplanets' atmospheres and can be detected by the James Webb Space Telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be looking for nitrous oxide (N2O) - commonly known as laughing gas

"A lot of thought has been put into oxygen and methane as biosignatures," Riverside lead author Eddie Schwetterman said in a statement.

"Few researchers have seriously considered nitrous oxide, but we think this may be a mistake."

On Earth, nitrous oxide is a natural waste byproduct of life. Microorganisms take up nitrogen compounds and break them down into nitrates.

Metabolism releases energy in this process. Anyone who owns a fish would know about it.

This is why fish tanks need to be cleaned regularly to remove excess nitrates that accumulate over time.

Under certain circumstances, there are certain bacteria that are quite fond of nitrates, and metabolically break them down to produce nitrous oxide.

Therefore, the abundance of nitrous oxide in the planetary atmosphere would be a strong biosignature.

Especially since it produces absorption lines at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths detectable by JWST.