Thursday, March 20, 2008

Methane Found on Extra Solar Planet

ScienceDaily reports the exciting discovery of methane by the Hubble Sapce Telescope in an alien star system. It was found on a "hot Jupiter" called HD 189733b. Methane is a organic hydrocarbon molecule and one of the primary components of natural gas. It is found on many worlds in our own solar system but had never been detected outside it. The interesting thing is that water vapor has already been confirmed on the same planet.

"The planet, HD 189733b, now known to have methane and water vapour is located 63 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula, the little fox. HD 189733b, a "hot Jupiter"-type extrasolar planet, is so close to its parent star that it takes just over two days to complete an orbit. "Hot Jupiters" are the size of Jupiter but orbit closer to their stars than the tiny innermost planet Mercury in our Solar System. HD 189733b's atmosphere swelters at 900 degrees C, about the same temperature as the melting point of silver."

The real import of the finding is that we have now been able to detect atmospheric gasses from a far distant world. Utilizing the same methods, we may soon be able to do the same thing for smaller and cooler worlds that might have evidence of being habitable. The ultimate goal of these studies is to discover prebiotic molecules in the atmospheres of terrestrial type rocky planets orbiting within the habitable zone of another star.

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