The Helmholtz Alliance is using an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the relationships between the formation of planets and the evolution of life. Entire planets are included in the study, from their outer envelopes of magnetosphere and atmosphere to their core. Beginning with Earth, other planetary bodies in our solar system will also be studied, such as the earthlike planets Venus and Mars. But moons are also a subject of investigation, on which life is at least theoretically possible according to present knowledge. The wide-ranging methodologies being developed may also even involve planets outside our solar system.
Whether the surface of a planet is suited to the development of life depends on numerous factors. The nature of the central star and its distance to the planet fundamentally determine its habitability. Planetary parameters such as mass, composition, the dynamics of the solid components, the presence of water and of an atmosphere also affect whether there is life to be found. The atmosphere plays a crucial role, whereby state variables like pressure, temperature or chemical composition determine the framework for the evolution of life on the surface of the planet. These parameters are in turn influenced by the incoming radiation field from the central star, which is modified by the planet’s atmosphere. Physical and chemical processes propel the atmospheric dynamics. These include transport mechanisms, the formation of aerosols and clouds, and the possible dispersion of the planet’s atmosphere into interplanetary space.
The IMF Atmospheric Processors department contributes its expertise in radiative transfer to the alliance. This knowledge is used to simulate how a planet’s atmosphere reacts to changes in basic input parameters. This makes it possible not only to understand the properties of the radiation which reaches the surface of the planet; the observed spectrum can also be analyzed for biomarkers.