Exoplanet Biosignatures: At the Dawn of a New Era of Planetary Observations

Nancy Y. Kiang, Shawn Domagal-Goldman, Mary N. Parenteau, David C. Catling, Yuka Fujii, Victoria S. Meadows, Edward W. Schwieterman, Sara Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


The rapid rate of discoveries of exoplanets has expanded the scope of the science possible for the remote detection of life beyond Earth. The Exoplanet Biosignatures Workshop Without Walls (EBWWW) held in 2016 engaged the international scientific community across diverse scientific disciplines, to assess the state of the science and technology in the search for life on exoplanets, and to identify paths for progress. The workshop activities resulted in five major review papers, which provide (1) an encyclopedic review of known and proposed biosignatures and models used to ascertain them (Schwieterman et al., 2018 in this issue); (2) an in-depth review of O2 as a biosignature, rigorously examining the nuances of false positives and false negatives for evidence of life (Meadows et al., 2018 in this issue); (3) a Bayesian framework to comprehensively organize current understanding to quantify confidence in biosignature assessments (Catling et al., 2018 in this issue); (4) an extension of that Bayesian framework in anticipation of increasing planetary data and novel concepts of biosignatures (Walker et al., 2018 in this issue); and (5) a review of the upcoming telescope capabilities to characterize exoplanets and their environment (Fujii et al., 2018 in this issue). Because of the immense content of these review papers, this summary provides a guide to their complementary scope and highlights salient features. Strong themes that emerged from the workshop were that biosignatures must be interpreted in the context of their environment, and that frameworks must be developed to link diverse forms of scientific understanding of that context to quantify the likelihood that a biosignature has been observed. Models are needed to explore the parameter space where measurements will be widespread but sparse in detail. Given the technological prospects for large ground-based telescopes and space-based observatories, the detection of atmospheric signatures of a few potentially habitable planets may come before 2030.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-629
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Bayesian analysis
  • Biosignatures
  • Exoplanets
  • Remote observation
  • Spectral imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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