Life's building blocks get around

While the discovered planet is far too hot to support life as we know it, the Hubble Telescope has found organic molecules in the atmosphere of a body orbiting a distant sun. NASA held a teleconference yesterday to announce the finding.

This discovery proves that Hubble and upcoming space missions, such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, can detect organic molecules on planets around other stars by using spectroscopy, which splits light into its components to reveal the 'fingerprints' of various chemicals.

'This is a crucial stepping stone to eventually characterizing prebiotic molecules on planets where life could exist,' said Mark Swain of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., who led the team that made the discovery.

Swain is the lead author of a paper that will be featured in the March 20 issue of the journal Nature.

Related, there is news about the relative presence of such molecules in the circumsteller disk of a young star. These disks are believed to be the raw material for planet formation. And because there is a higher concentration in the disk than in the intersteller cloud that led to the disk, there is evidence now that an active organic chemistry is occurring as systems take shape.

While astronomers are beginning to understand the movement of organic chemicals in planetary protosystems, one needn't observe distant worlds to see the results. Leaving aside life on our own Blue Marble, the Saturn moon Titan, visited in 2005 by the Huygens probe, is host to hydrocarbon seas.


Wikipedia: protoplanetary disk