Methane Found On Distant Planet

Methane Found On Distant Planet Methane was detected in the atmosphere of a planet 63 light years away by Dr Giovanna Tinetti and Mark Swain and Gautam Vasisht from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Water was also detected in the planet's atmosphere but scientists say that the planet, with a temperature that can reach 900 C, is far too hot to be home to any life.

When the planet, known as HD 189733b, passed in front of the star that it orbits (viewed from Earth), starlight passed through its atmosphere and the gases left their chemical signatures on the light that reached Earth. Using spectroscopy, a method in which light is split into its basic components, Tinetti, Swain and Vasisht discovered methane's chemical "fingerprint". The three then confirmed a discovery that had been made previously when they found that the planet's atmosphere contains water vapour.

This discovery shows that the Hubble Space Telescope, which the researchers were using at the time, and a new generation of telescopes can use the method of spectroscopy to identify organic molecules on planets outside of our Solar System.

Dr Swain said: "This is a crucial stepping stone to eventually characterizing prebiotic molecules on planets where life could exist."

Expressing her personal views, Dr Tinetti said: "I definitely think that life is out there. My personal view is it is way too arrogant to think that we are the only ones living in the Universe."

Eventually this method may be used to determine whether or not newfound planets are suitable to sustain life and/or for human beings to live on.

Source; BBC News.

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