Titania may produce abiotic oxygen atmospheres on habitable exoplanets
Narita et al
The search for habitable exoplanets in the Universe is actively ongoing in the field of astronomy. The biggest future milestone is to determine whether life exists on such habitable exoplanets. In that context, oxygen in the atmosphere has been considered strong evidence for the presence of photosynthetic organisms. In this paper, we show that a previously unconsidered photochemical mechanism by titanium(IV) oxide (titania) can produce abiotic oxygen from liquid water under near ultraviolet (NUV) lights on the surface of exoplanets. Titania works as a photocatalyst to dissociate liquid water in this process. This mechanism offers a different source of a possibility of abiotic oxygen in atmospheres of exoplanets from previously considered photodissociation of water vapor in upper atmospheres by extreme ultraviolet (XUV) light. Our order-of-magnitude estimation shows that possible amounts of oxygen produced by this abiotic mechanism can be comparable with or even more than that in the atmosphere of the current Earth, depending on the amount of active surface area for this mechanism. We conclude that titania may act as a potential source of false signs of life on habitable exoplanets.