Hubble discovers methane on exo-planet

March 20th, 2008 - 2:46 am ICT by admin  

Garching (Germany), March 20 (DPA) The Hubble space telescope has discovered methane gas, a useful fuel and precursor of life, on a planet outside the Solar System. The European Hubble Centre at Garching, near Munich, said Wednesday it was the first time any organic molecule had been found on the new class of heavenly bodies, the exo-planets.

The orbiting telescope detected methane (chemical formula CH4) by analysing light shining through the atmosphere of exo-planet HD 189733b, which is 63 light years from earth, in the constellation Vulpecula.

Methane is found on most planets in the Solar System and is the main component of natural gas that burns in power stations and furnaces on Earth. It is also notably produced by cows’ stomachs.

However there are no cows on the exo-planet, which is a gas giant sizzling at about 900 degrees Celsius.

In an article about the discovery appearing Wednesday in Nature, the British science magazine, Giovanna Tinetti of University College London said that was too hot for any known life form.

Garching scientists said the find was a major step in the search for life elsewhere in the universe, since it showed how methane could be found on cooler objects.

HD 189733b is one of nearly 280 exo-planets discovered so far. It is about the size of Jupiter, but orbits its sun very close in a “year” that lasts just two Earth days.

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