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The stellar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been studied in the last decade and has been found to be an important factor to determine the habitability of planetary surfaces. It is known that UVR can be a constraint for life. However, most of the studies of UVR and habitability have missed some fundamental aspects: i) Accurate estimation of the planetary atmospheric attenuation, ii) The biological inferences used to represent the impact of the stellar UVR on life are theoretical and based on the action spectrum (for DNA or microorganisms) or considering parameters as the “lethal dose” obtained from non-astrobiological experiments. Therefore, the conclusions reached by previous studies about the UVR habitability of planetary bodies may be inaccurate. In this work, we propose how to address these studies in a more accurate way through an interdisciplinary approach that combines astrophysics, microbiology, and photobiology and by the use of specially designed laboratory experiments.
Astrobiology is a relatively recent scientific field that seeks to understand the origin and dynamics of life in the Universe. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain life in the cosmic context throughout human history, but only now, technology has allowed many of them to be tested. Laboratory experiments have been able to show how chemical elements essential to life, such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen combine in biologically important compounds. Interestingly, these compounds are ubiquitous. How these compounds were combined to the point of originating cells and complex organisms is still to be unveiled by science. However, our 4.5 billion years old Solar system appeared in a 10 billion years old Universe. Thus, simple cells such as micro-organisms may have had time to form in planets older than ours or in other suitable places in the Universe. One hypothesis related to the appearance of life on Earth is called panspermia, which predicts that microbial life could have been formed in the Universe billions of years ago, travelling between planets, and inseminating units of life that could have become more complex in habitable planets such as Earth. A project designed to test the viability of extremophile micro-organisms exposed to simulated extraterrestrial environments is in progress at the Carlos Chagas Filho Institute of Biophysics (UFRJ, Brazil) to test whether microbial life could withstand inhospitable environments. Radiation-resistant (known or novel ones) micro-organisms collected from extreme terrestrial environments have been exposed (at synchrotron accelerators) to intense radiation sources simulating Solar radiation, capable of emitting radiation in a few hours equivalent to many years of accumulated doses. The results obtained in these experiments reveal an interesting possibility of the existence of microbial life beyond Earth.
At present, dwarf M stars are being considered as potential hosts for habitable planets. However, an important fraction of these stars are flare stars, which among other kind of radiation, emit large amounts of UV radiation during flares, and it is unknown how this events can affect life, since biological systems are particularly vulnerable to UV. In this work we evaluate a well known dMe star, EV Lacertae (GJ 873) as a potential host for the emergence and evolution of life, focusing on the effects of the UV emission associated with flare activity. Since UV-C is particularly harmful for living organisms, we studied the effect of UV-C radiation on halophile archaea cultures. The halophile archaea or haloarchaea are extremophile microorganisms, which inhabit in hypersaline environments and which show several mechanisms to cope with UV radiation since they are naturally exposed to intense solar UV radiation on Earth. To select the irradiance to be tested, we considered a moderate flare on this star. We obtained the mean value for the UV-C irradiance integrating the IUE spectrum in the impulsive phase, and considering a hypothetical planet in the center of the liquid water habitability zone. To select the irradiation times we took the most frequent duration of flares on this star which is from 9 to 27 minutes. Our results show that even after considerable UV damage, the haloarchaeal cells survive at the tested doses, showing that this kind of life could survive in a relatively hostile UV environment.
Dwarf M stars comprise about 75 percent of all stars in the galaxy. For several years planets orbiting M stars have been discarded as suitable places for development of life. This paradigm now has changed and terrestrial-type planets within liquid-water habitable zones (LW-HZ) around M stars are reconsidered as possible hosts for life as we know it. Nevertheless, large amount of UV radiation is emitted during flares by this stars, and it is uncertain how these events could affect biological systems. In particular UV-C λ < 290nm) exhibits the most damaging effects for living organisms. To analyze the hypothesis that UV could set a limit for the development of extraterrestrial life, we studied the effect of UV-C treatment on halophile archaea cultures. Halophile archaea are extremophile organisms, they are exposed to intense solar UV radiation in their natural environment so they are generally regarded as relatively UV tolerant. Halophiles inhabits in hipersaline environments as salt lakes but also have been found in ancient salt deposits as halites and evaporites on Earth. Since evaporites have been detected in Martian meteorites, these organisms are proposed as plausible inhabitants of Mars-like planets. Our preliminary results show that even after UV damage, the surviving cells were able to resume growth with nearly normal kinetics.
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