Atmospheric composition of exoplanets based on the thermal escape of gases and implications for habitability

Samuel Konatham*, Javier Martin-Torres, Maria Paz Zorzano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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The detection of habitable exoplanets is an exciting scientific and technical challenge. Owing to the current and most likely long-lasting impossibility of performing in situ exploration of exoplanets, their study and hypotheses regarding their capability to host life will be based on the restricted low-resolution spatial and spectral information of their atmospheres. On the other hand, with the advent of the upcoming exoplanet survey missions and technological improvements, there is a need for preliminary discrimination that can prioritize potential candidates within the fast-growing list of exoplanets. Here we estimate, for the first time and using the kinetic theory of gases, a list of the possible atmospheric species that can be retained in the atmospheres of the known exoplanets. We conclude that, based on our current knowledge of the detected exoplanets, 45 of them are good candidates for habitability studies. These exoplanets could have Earth-like atmospheres and should be able to maintain stable liquid water. Our results suggest that the current definition of a habitable zone around a star should be revisited and that the capacity of the planet to host an Earth-like atmosphere to support the stability of liquid water should be added.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20200148
Number of pages21
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2241
Early online date9 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

This research has been funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Kempe Foundation, The County Administrative Board of Norrbotten and Luleå University of Technology. M.-P.Z.'s research at CAB has been partially supported by the Spanish State Research Agency (AEI) project no. MDM-2017-0737 Unidad de Excelencia ‘María de Maeztu’- Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC).
We thank all the referees for their valuable comments. We are grateful for their constructive remarks, which led to a significant improvement to the manuscript.


  • habitability
  • exoplanets
  • atmospheres
  • kinetic theory
  • thermal escape


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