Methane Gas Detected on Distant Planet

March 25, 2008 01:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
For the first time, scientists have discovered methane in the atmosphere of a planet in another solar system­­­­––the latest in a series of astronomical breakthroughs.

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A NASA team has detected the organic molecule methane on the distant planet HD 189733 b, located 63 light years away from Earth, reports Scientific American. Last year, members of the same research team reported the presence of water vapor on the same planet.

Although scientists say the findings probably do not indicate signs of life on the giant planet, whose atmosphere sits at a searing 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, the discovery raises the hope of making similar detections on a smaller, cooler planet more similar to Earth. 

“On a more hospitable planet this would really be something exciting,” said Mark Swain of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “These measurements are the dress rehearsal for something we hope to be doing in the future.”

The discovery is just the most recent development in what scientists are calling an explosion of planetary findings in recent years. Astronomers identified the first planet outside of our solar system 13 years ago, and since then have confirmed 277 total.

“These are exciting times for studies of extrasolar planets,” said planetary scientist Adam Showman of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Researchers “are finally moving beyond simply discovering such planets to truly characterizing them as worlds.” 

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union formally reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet, and added two other dwarf planets, Ceres and Eris, to the roster of planets in our solar system.

Headline Links: Methane found on extra-solar planet

Related Topics: A series of astronomical discoveries

Reference: Pluto


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