Detecting volcanoes on other worlds

credit D. Aguilar CfA

Ever wondered if you could detect volcanoes on other worlds? It is actually very interesting because volcanoes are linked to tectonics. If you could find signs for volcanoes on a rocky exoplanet in the habitable zone, that would be very interesting for life (keep in mind that volcanism alone does not say whether a planet is habitable – just look at the moon Io in our Solar System).

We looked into what we could detect in the atmosphere of planets that would show volcanic activity – and could be detected over lightyears away. We use the biggest volcanic eruption on Earth to make our model. It shows that you can detect SO2 signatures in the atmosphere of exoplanets and thus see signs of volcanism. This paper established the idea that we can detect signatures of volcanism on exoplanets to establish if it is geologically active, and therefore can maintain surface habitability and looks at how much time on a future telescope, like JWST, you’d need to be able to detect it.

Kaltenegger L., et al.,Characterizing Volcano planets, ApJ, 140, 5, 1370, 2010, Institute for Pale Blue Dots

http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.1355

http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2010-14