Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fungii From Yuggoth: 21st Century?

Thanks to T Peter for this article. Lovecraft was convinced of a tenth planet (really a 9th in his day - Pluto came along in the 1930's) in our solar system.

Wow, have we come aong way!


09 December 2008
Hubble finds carbon dioxide on an extrasolar planet

The Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, is too hot for life. But
new Hubble observations are a proof-of-concept demonstration that the
basic chemistry for life can be measured on planets orbiting other
stars. Organic compounds can also be a by-product of life processes and
their detection on an Earth-like planet may someday provide the first
evidence of life beyond Earth.

Previous observations of HD 189733b by Hubble and the Spitzer Space
Telescope found water vapour. Earlier this year Hubble found methane in
the planet’s atmosphere.

"This is exciting because Hubble is allowing us to see molecules that
probe the conditions, chemistry, and composition of atmospheres on
other planets," says first author Mark Swain of The Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, USA. "Thanks to Hubble we're entering an era
where we are rapidly going to expand the number of molecules we know
about on other planets."

The international team of astronomers used Hubble's Near Infrared
Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) to study infrared light
emitted from the planet, which lies 63 light-years away. Gases in the
planet's atmosphere absorb certain wavelengths of light from the
planet's hot glowing interior. The team identified not only carbon
dioxide, but also carbon monoxide. The molecules leave their own unique
spectral fingerprint on the radiation from the planet that reaches
Earth. This is the first time a near-infrared emission spectrum has
been obtained for an extrasolar planet.

"The carbon dioxide is kind of the main focus of the excitement,
because that is a molecule that under the right circumstances could
have a connection to biological activity as it does on Earth," Swain
says. "The very fact that we're able to detect it, and estimate its
abundance, is significant for the long-term effort of characterizing
planets both to find out what they’re made of and to find out if they
could be a possible host for life."

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