Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Space oddity: Key Earth compound found outside solar system

clipped from
For the first time, a molecule containing carbon — the organic building block of life on Earth — has been found outside our solar system.
Scientists report in the journal Nature that methane — yes, that smelly gas — was detected in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-size planet about 63 light years away. (That's roughly 3.7 quadrillion miles, give or take a trillion.) Atmospheric water was discovered also.
But don't get your hopes up that this is where your extraterrestrial relatives are hiding: The big ball of gas is orbiting too close to its sun to support earthly life. The scientists write, however, that "under the right circumstances" methane can play a key role in prebiotic chemistry — the chemical reactions considered necessary to form life as we know it.
Astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab found the far-away molecules with the Hubble Space Telescope. Here's the news release.
The BBC and have more.
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