Astrobiological stoichiometry

Patrick Young, Steven Desch, Ariel Anbar, Rory Barnes, Natalie R. Hinkel, Ravikumar Kopparapu, Nikku Madhusudhan, Nikhil Monga, Michael D. Pagano, Miriam A. Riner, Evan Scannapieco, Sang-Heon Shim, Amanda Truitt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Chemical composition affects virtually all aspects of astrobiology, from stellar astrophysics to molecular biology. We present a synopsis of the research results presented at the "Stellar Stoichiometry" Workshop Without Walls hosted at Arizona State University April 11-12, 2013, under the auspices of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The results focus on the measurement of chemical abundances and the effects of composition on processes from stellar to planetary scales. Of particular interest were the scientific connections between processes in these normally disparate fields. Measuring the abundances of elements in stars and giant and terrestrial planets poses substantial difficulties in technique and interpretation. One of the motivations for this conference was the fact that determinations of the abundance of a given element in a single star by different groups can differ by more than their quoted errors. The problems affecting the reliability of abundance estimations and their inherent limitations are discussed. When these problems are taken into consideration, self-consistent surveys of stellar abundances show that there is still substantial variation (factors of ~2) in the ratios of common elements (e.g., C, O, Na, Al, Mg, Si, Ca) important in rock-forming minerals, atmospheres, and biology. We consider how abundance variations arise through injection of supernova nucleosynthesis products into star-forming material and through photoevaporation of protoplanetary disks. The effects of composition on stellar evolution are substantial, and coupled with planetary atmosphere models can result in predicted habitable zone extents that vary by many tens of percent. Variations in the bulk composition of planets can affect rates of radiogenic heating and substantially change the mineralogy of planetary interiors, affecting properties such as convection and energy transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-626
Number of pages24
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014


  • Chemical evolution
  • Extrasolar planets
  • Geochemistry
  • Habitability
  • Supernovae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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