Monday 28 July, 2014

Methane model can sniff out extra-terrestrial life

Published On: Tue, Jun 17th, 2014 | Astrophysics | By BioNews

Methane, known as a sign of potential life, can now help detect extraterrestrial life on other planets.

Researchers have developed a powerful model to detect life on planets outside of our solar system, more accurately than ever before.

The model focuses on methane, the simplest organic molecule.

“We anticipate that our model will have a big impact on the future study of planets and ‘cool’ stars external to our solar system, potentially helping scientists identify signs of extraterrestrial life,” explained Jonathan Tennyson, professor from department of physics and astronomy at University College London (UCL).

Researchers from the UCL and University of New South Wales developed a spectrum for “hot” methane which can be used to detect the molecule at temperatures above that of earth, up to 1,220 degrees Celsius.

They used some of the most advanced supercomputers to calculate nearly 10 billion spectroscopic lines – each with a distinct colour at which methane can absorb light.

The list of lines is 2,000 times bigger than any previous study.

“The comprehensive spectrum we have created has only been possible with the astonishing power of modern supercomputers which are needed for the billions of lines required for the modelling,” said Sergei Yurchenko, from the UCL.

The model has been tested and verified by successfully reproducing in detail the way in which the methane in failed stars, called brown dwarfs, absorbs light.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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