Carbon Monoxide and Astrobiology


On its face, carbon monoxide is an extremely
dangerous gas, at least to humans. There are two reasons for this, one, given
that it’s toxic to humans, it’s also somewhat insidious in that it has no color or odor
leading to easy accidental poisoning in people exposed to it. The other is that it’s chemically active
within the body, which is what makes it so toxic, essentially making the body unable
to distribute oxygen. Up until now, it’s been assumed that if
carbon monoxide were detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, it would indicate that life
probably did not exist there, at least as we can envision it. Not only because it can be outright poisonous
to some biology, it would also serve as a ready source of carbon and energy for any
life that can use it. Thus it was thought it wouldn’t stick around
long in an atmosphere with microbial life. But this is being rethought in a broader context. Are some assumptions we make about certain
things that would seem to preclude life from existing on an exoplanet not as set in stone
as we might think? In a paper by Edward Schwieterman and colleagues,
link below, they modeled hypothetical exoplanet atmospheres that contain carbon monoxide and
found two interesting scenarios where life and carbon monoxide in high amounts might
co-exist, and that may have been the case here on earth long ago. With earth, carbon monoxide doesn’t persist
in the atmosphere very long, being destroyed by chemical reactions. But this may not always have been the case. Before the great oxygenation event, there
was little oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, and the sun’s luminosity was less than it
is today. If there were higher levels of carbon monoxide
at the time and conditions here allowed it to build up more than today, it would have
been maintained when simple life was everywhere on this planet. If that could happen here, then it should
be possible on exoplanets. But there’s another scenario that came from
the modeling, that might be even more interesting. In a planetary system centered on a red dwarf,
such as the Trappist 1 planets or Proxima B, it may be easier to create and maintain
carbon monoxide, and that oxygen rich planets with high abundances of carbon monoxide, could
also host life. That these possibilities exist calls into
question the so-called antibiosignatures at large, which are a group of atmospheric scenarios
that would rule out an exoplanet being inhabited by life. For example, Venus. Normally, this would be the last place one
would expect to find life. If Venus were a distant exoplanet, the crushing
heat and pressure would probably preclude it from being considered a candidate for a
world inhabited by life. But, the specific conditions Venus was subjected
to over the course of its history changes that equation. Venus is suspected to have once been very
different, possibly a water world like earth for a time earlier in its history. If this was the case, then that’s the first
criteria for earth-like microbial life to have its genesis. If that life adapted to the changing conditions
of Venus, it’s possible that it could still be there high in the upper atmosphere where
conditions aren’t anything close to as harsh as that of the surface. Another example is Jupiter’s moon Io. Again, this wildly volcanic radiation bathed
moon wouldn’t intuitively be considered as a candidate for microbial life, but it
actually is one. Io once had as much water ice as any of the
other galilean moons of Jupiter, and deep down may still have small amounts under volcanically
heated conditions. While a huge long shot, in fact probably the
longest shot of all the candidates for microbial life in the solar system, it is in principle
possible for life to be eeking out a living deep down in a moist, warm Io lava tube. These kinds of scenarios where a body’s
unique history gives inroads for life will make it very difficult to definitively rule
out life on some exoplanets that might otherwise seem too harsh for it. Life on earth has proven to be ridiculously
resilient and adaptable once it gets a foothold, particularly the microbes, so it may well
be that only the harshest antibiosignatures can be used to definitively rule out of the
possibility of life on certain exoplanets in the universe, even ones rich in gases like
carbon monoxide. Thanks for listening! I am futurist and science fiction author John
Michael Godier currently musing about ANNA and my personal carbon monoxide factory, the
le baron. She thinks it would run more efficiently on
hydrogen, which is highly flammable, but I would prefer to remain alive and be sure to
check out my books at your favorite online book retailer and subscribe to my channels
for regular, in-depth explorations into the interesting, weird and unknown aspects of
this amazing universe in which we live.

Comments 81

  • Yay!! A new upload for my birthday! What a thoughtful gift thankyou 😉

  • EarlySquad where you at!!!

  • This episode takes your breath away!

  • You failed to mention another obvious possible cause of high atmospheric CO concentrations. A chain-smoking race of SUV driving aliens that have yet to figure out emission controls…Think China on a planetary scale.

  • John Michael "White Morgan Freeman" Godier back at it again!

  • So many biases in astrobiology.

  • Very cool! The best thing about science is reconsidering things that were accepted and changing your outlook.
    My favorite is the possibility of life that don't resemble what we know, like the possibility of life that subsist on hydrocarbons like methane on Titan, which would turn everything on its head.

  • Alien Shooter McGavin microbe: "I metabolize carbon monoxide molecules like you for breakfast!"

  • How come you haven’t done a video on the Hiawatha impact crater?

  • You sir John Michael Godier blow my mind.

  • Interesting video I think if life is common in our Universe then it will likely surprise us on how versatile it is. Oh did you hear about the Martian mushrooms Curiosity found? Probably just rocks but I'm crossing my fingers.

  • Really interesting, man. But yeah, sometimes we make too much assumptions and take them too serious… Even without evidence.
    Anyway, you look like someone that do FPV… Do you?

  • Anna is a palindrome !

  • Hydrogen gas is so flammable in various stoichiometric ratios that it's probably the least safe ICE fuel. That, and you just can't store that much hydrogen in a tank. Thunderf00t has a good video on it. LP/LNG are better for converting gasoline engines. But then again, a full tank of gas is dangerously close to spending more than a LeBaron is worth, so modifying it at all is a losing proposition.

  • Ok question! Why do we keep using the word EXOPLANET. WHY

  • Not only could CO be considered an antibiosignature, but also as a technosignature if we assume exocivilizations would utilize similar industries compared to human activity! Excellent video as always, John!

    More about industries that produce carbon monoxide: http://www.npi.gov.au/system/files/resources/02ecfe23-3a97-0a34-b9a4-82b06f7a09fa/files/factsheet-carbonmonoxide.pdf

  • I would love, love, love to find out that Venus has life. Imagine what that says about simple life in the universe.

  • Criterion is the singular of criteria.

  • Thanks for opening your mind to other ways life could develop. Life could be stranger than they could possibly imagine. Maybe they even see in the "Dark" realm, possibly interacting with the hypothetical "Dark" photons that is the dark matter particle that scientists may have detected. We just don't know do we? Maybe the UFO's that people have reported for past half century have something to do with it…?hmm🤔

  • i always watch ur vids to sleep, then i dream about aliens and the illuminati

  • I'm Astrobiology

  • Thanks for posting again John!

  • Someone wanna explain to me how we can detect gasses on other planets?

  • John spoke with Event Horizon Telescope team member Dr. Feryal Ozel about the First Image of a Black Hole: https://youtu.be/MJAGWnyFG4I

  • ANNA is kind of a sadist, isn't she

  • High concentrations of CO in the atmosphere indicates that the civilization committed suicide in their garages.

  • Gasoline is also flammable. Lol.

  • Oxygen is a Poison.

  • I thought the title said "Astrology", and I'm all like, "Whut?"

  • 5:54 am in my country, red eyes, but still I need to watch this video before going to sleep ♡

  • Couldn’t high CO emissions be also be a possible techno-signature..?

  • A LeBaron? ….why? For the challenge?

  • I am a simple man, If I see a JMG video I click.

  • Also, to be fair, when compressed carbon monoxide is flammable, too

  • Did you cats here that? Co doesn’t last long in our atmosphere… so remember that when a politician talks about carbon in our atmosphere and climate change.

  • 9 88 i8i9i9ii9iiiiiiii9ii9ii9iiii9i9ii9ii9iiii9ii8iiiii9>888 I 888 i9i9ii9i9i9ii9ii9i9iii9i9i9ii9i9i9i0i9i8i89iii9ii9i9i9ii9i9iiii9iii9i9i9i9i9i89989iii9i9ii988i9i9i98ii9i9i9i9ii9i8iiiii9i9i9i9i9i8ii9iii9iiii9ii9iii9iiiii9i9ii99iii9i9i9i9ii9i9

  • I wish I could escape my "pet peeve" of the word "criteria" being used instead of "criterion" in situations where it refers to a single factor. But it seems I can't. Hence this pointless comment

  • Do you have any Audiobooks? I sure would like one

  • Thanks John, hope you're well.

  • If the sun shined less brightly and burned cooler, how could Mars have been in the habitable zone 3.5+ billion years ago?

  • Great voice.

  • Are we making too many assumptiond as to what forms life can take? I think that the main reason is that we expect to meet alien life similar to us as predicted in science fiction.

  • I love waking up to your videos, it gives the day a whole new glow, as Jack said.

  • one day i will read something from this man but not today god damn there is so much to read

  • Would love to hear your comments on the Mars fungi.

  • watching this, then play some endless space 2

  • I listen to your voice for 15 minutes and my migraines are cured!

  • a carbon monoxide apocalypse,hospitals full of thousands of people in a panic to breathe,everyone would have to walk around with masks and oxygen tanks from birth to death.

  • Kohlenstoffmonooxid ist Gift

  • Firstly , thank you Sir for your quality content which i enjoy and look forward to!

    now, some of my thoughts that you may be interested, maybe not. either way, your call and no heart feelings (i hope from both sides)

    i cannot help but think 90% of the times i watch i vid of yours that you deal with subjects so similar to a loved channel of mine (I.A.).
    And my question is:
    Are your intentions yo summarize*, make a shorter vid (that's how i click your content, when i have little time to spare)
    OR intend to offer your personal glance at similar subjects?
    because, if the latter is the case, you can totally do this and produce longer vids.
    that's something i would like to see.

    *due to the limited duration you cannot avoid starting with the basics (and only those) that have been already said. take your time and expand your imagination from there!!

    sorry if that didn't come out the way i meant.
    my intention was pure.

    good luck and (even more) success!!

  • I also prefer to remain alive! What a freaky coincidence.

  • As a child, I remember reading and learning about the probes sent out and how they are carefully sterilized so as to not accidentally introduce our microorganisms into other celestial bodies. Back then it was the moon specifically. Then I began to wonder if we sent out a probe with as much bacteria as possible, would simple life be able to thrive and start a chain reaction that'll make the planet support more complex life forms? I have always thought about this since but nobody else seems to ask that question. If I recall correctly bacteria are able to survive in harsh conditions even here on earth.

  • hey can you make a video about fungus on mars

  • It appears my opinion is being censored here. I guess when a fiction writer runs up to a software engineer who actually ran the numbers and found nothing wrong with the environment, he starts projecting then blocks responses.

    Did you cats here that? Co doesn’t last long in our atmosphere… so remember that when a politician talks about carbon in our atmosphere and climate change.

  • I'm a simple man, I see "carbon monoxide and astrobiology" and i click.

  • How is it possible that life could exist in Venus’s high atmosphere? Wouldn’t life need, I dunno, land? 🤔

  • What if Venus once had a civilization that perished from runaway green house gasses?

  • Gasoline is actually more dangerous than hydrogen. The Hindenburg burned because of the coating on the fabric skin not the hydrogen.

  • Thanks for this!

  • Just discovered your channel recently. Fascinating. I have thought sometimes it is as if we humans are creating our future (and cosmos) via imagination as writers. Enjoy your work too.

  • If you use "it's energetic, so life would have depleted it" as an argument against life, then Oxygen would be an argument against life?

  • We need more videos from you, keep them coming!

  • You should do a video on the "axis of evil"

  • Hey John, interesting topic. May have to reevaluate all anti signatures. Are you working on a new novel yet? Just wondering.

  • I think Scientists need to be more open minded. We shouldn't just assume that Oxygen/Water are the only indicators of life. For all we know, the first life we'll ever find outside our solar system are floating sheets of simple cellular membranes living off gases in the atmosphere like Venus. Or even a gas giant.

  • It's pretty dumb to presume life has to be anything like life on Earth… The fact is, life developed as it did on Earth, to fit Earth… That's why life survived here. Life on planets relatively different to our own would likely host entirely different biologies, based on different chemical reactions and protien structures (or their equivilent) best fit for the planet they live on.

  • Convert your car to hydrogen, BMW actually made such an engine but sadly abandoned it. The sweet sound of combustion paired with zero emmisions, what could be better?

  • Life is tough. Life kicks ass. If it can live, it will find a way. Life has the will of fire!

  • What would happen to life on earth if the moon disappeared?

  • I once tried to find intelligent life in the universe. I started a long time ago with a planet named Earth… I'm still searching.

  • The biggest problem we have for the prediction of alien life is we have a sample of ONE to go off and therefore make an awful lot of assumptions. Perhaps we are a rarity and other alien lifeforms have more in common with each other than us.

  • Interesting video. Totally agree with you. I definitely would not rule our carbon monoxide. Although you can not see it or smell it, it is can be very dangerous. But they DO sell a lot of meters to alarm you if they find it.

  • Your voice is awesome 😊

  • Death by LeBaron

  • Highly poisonous to vertebrates, not so much to plants and insects.

  • We've found bacteria in glaciers, volcanic vents, water with sulfuric acid, ect. I think it's time we start admitting that "precluding life" is just an assumptions.

  • These videos are so awesome

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