Methane found on Jupiter-sized extra-solar planet

March 20th, 2008 - 12:47 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, March 20 (IANS) For the first time ever, astronomers have detected an organic molecule - which plays a key role in the formation of life - on a planet circling a nearby star. The methane molecule has been detected by the Hubble Space Telescope in the atmosphere of the Jupiter-sized planet named HD 189733b, located 63 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula, or the little fox.

Under right circumstances, methane can play a key role in pre-biotic (life forming) chemistry

“This is a crucial stepping stone to eventually characterising pre-biotic molecules on planets where life could exist,” said Mark Swain of NASA, who led the team that made the discovery.

A report on the discovery has been published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

The discovery comes after extensive observations made in May 2007 with Hubble’s near infrared camera and multi-object spectrometer (NICMOS).

The planet is so close to its parent star that it takes just over two days to complete an orbit. HD 189733b’s atmosphere is a sweltering 900 degrees C - the melting point of silver.

Methane, composed of carbon and hydrogen, is one of the main components of natural gas, a petroleum product.

It is produced by natural sources like termites, the oceans and wetland environments, and also from livestock and manmade sources like waste landfills.

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