Organic molecules – in the form of methane – have been detected on a planet outside our solar system for the first time. The giant planet lies too close to its parent star for the methane to signal life, but the detection offers hope that astronomers will one day be able to analyse the atmospheres of Earth-like worlds.Certified organic molecules, on the other hand, remain elusive, and rather pricey.
Astronomers Mark Swain and Gautam Vasisht of Caltech in Pasadena, US, and Giovanna Tinetti of University College London, UK, used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the giant planet HD 189733b, which is slightly more massive than Jupiter and lies 63 light years from Earth.
Because the planet crosses the face of its parent star as seen from Earth, some starlight is periodically filtered through the planet's atmosphere, where different chemicals absorb particular wavelengths.
The observations confirm an earlier tentative detection of water vapour and reveal the presence of methane gas.
Feb 11, 2008
organic molecules on a faraway planet
One more step toward discovering an extraterrestrial origin of life, NewScientist reports: