Friday, 21 Mar, 2008 Science
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Methane Spotted on a Distant Planet

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Astronomers reported they had detected methane in the atmosphere of a distant planet, meaning that life can actually exist outside our Solar System.

The planet called HD 189733b that is 63 light years way was spotted by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with a help of US-European Hubble telescope that gives a spectroscopic picture of the planet's atmosphere. It allows uncovering the signature of chemicals found in its atmosphere.

Astronomers claim that there was a certain signature of methane, a chemical that is important to create conditions for life.

HD 189733b is a large planet found in the constellation of Vulpecula, having a temperature of 900 degrees Celsius and dry surface. The planet is close to its star and completes one orbit in two days.

Researchers plan to apply the same technique observing essential ingredients of life on other planets, where the temperatures are good enough for nurturing life.

Previous observations on HD 189733b planet showed the existence of water molecules. During the last 13 years astronomers spotted more than 270 exoplanets, planets existing beyond our Solar System. The question is whether any of them have conditions for life.

Methane is one of the four molecules, along with water, carbon dioxide and oxygen that are said to indicate life.

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