Hubble Space Telescope finds Methane on Distant Planet.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Hubble Space Telescope has found methane in the atmosphere of a distant planet, the same planet where water was found in 2007, which could aid efforts on finding life. Methane was detected in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-sized planet that circles a star 63 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. The planet, HD 189733b, is too close to a nearby star to support life as we know it.

The
Hubble Telescope has found methane in the atmosphere of a distant
planet, the same planet where water was found in 2007, which could aid
efforts on finding life. Methane was detected in the atmosphere of a
Jupiter-sized planet that circles a star 63 light-years away in the
constellation Vulpecula. The planet is known as HD 189733b (the Little Fox).

By: Jennifer Hong
Mar 19, 2008, 6:15 PM EDT

Scientists
at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which
coordinates use of the Hubble, said the significant breakthrough was
the result of attentive observations in May 2007 and could aid efforts
to find life on planets outside our solar system.

Hubble detected
methane in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-sized planet that circles a star
63 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. The planet, HD
189733b, is too close to a nearby star to support life as we know it.
However, researchers said the observations show the astronomers’
technique for detecting essential life ingredients can be used on
cooler, potentially habitable Earth-sized planets.

Mark Swain of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
California who led the team that made the initial breakthrough,
described the elaborate work as a "dress rehearsal for future searches
for life on more hospitable planets."

However, Sara Seager, a
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who was not part of
Swain’s team, said finding organic molecules on more Earth-like planets
will be much more difficult.

While methane is important — one of
four molecules that astronomers seek, along with water, carbon dioxide
and oxygen — it is mostly crucial as a byproduct of life, which is not
the case on this planet, said Carnegie Institution of Washington
astronomer Alan Boss.

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