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Space Science

First Organic Molecules Found on Alien World 146

Posted by Zonk
from the did-it-have-to-be-so-smelly dept.
Galactic_grub writes "The detection of planet HD 189733b is in some ways just another small victory for extra-solar planetary science. It is too hot for there to be anything 'alive'. Just the same, somewhere on the planet are trace amounts of the gas methane. The fact that the element was detected at all offers hope for understanding future discoveries of Earth-like worlds, says NewScientistSpace. Researchers from Caltech and University College London used the Hubble Space Telescope to peer at the planet and examined spectral signature of starlight filtered by the planet's atmosphere, to identify different chemicals. 'The authors suggest that some ill-understood chemical process might be responsible, either concentrating the methane in cooler parts of the atmosphere, or generating extra methane directly. Alternatively, the methane might simply mean that the planet happens to be very rich in carbon.'"
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First Organic Molecules Found on Alien World

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  • by kennylogins (1092227) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @11:40AM (#22392602)
    Humor works good too, you should try it sometime.
  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @12:32PM (#22393296) Homepage
    No one is an expert on that. That is one thing that pisses me off. We constantly have people saying moronic things like "Gas giants can't sustain life." We no so little about them, yet we have arrogant people saying things are impossible. The honest truth is that we have so little experience with conditions outside the planet that we can in NO way make statements about life in general. Pretty much every single statement about life made by a human being should really have an asterick saying "Life as we know know it." For ages we used to think that organic chemicals must be rare in temperatures below zero because with lower temperatures, less reactions occure. But instead we found that if the ice was formed from water that was at ONE time at a reasonable temperature, then orgainc chemiclas are CONCENTRATED by the ice, as they clump together. If the ice is subject to a cycle of warming then freezing, this leads to more common organic reactions than if you just leave the water alone in the first place. The chemiclas clump together when they freeze, then react when you heat them.
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @12:46PM (#22393502) Journal
    Yes it does. Methane is an organic molecule. If you find methane, you've found an organic molecule. Organic chemistry is not necessarily produced by life forms.

    That group of compounds (things like methane, ethane, propane, butane etc.) are all part of organic chemistry, and whether you find them with or without life they are still organic chemistry.
  • by aepervius (535155) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @03:59PM (#22396098)
    We know tons about the enthalpy of formation of various chemicals, family of chemicals, not only from carbonated life but other type of chemicals. The problem is to have molecule which bond easily enough, quickly enough, but not strongly enough that you have to spend a lot of energy to break bonds. Furthermore there are good indication that a liquid phase of some sort is necessary. If I recall correctly from the first proposition one can deduce life would use carbonated compound, as other type of compound (Si for example) would either not bind strongly enough, or too strongly. From the second in conjunction of the first, water present all sort of advantage. It ain't that we are so earth centric that we can't imagine other form of life, it is more that the chemistry of other compound don't seem to lend to the type of reaction necessary for life. Finally if you have carbonated compound as condition sine qua non, then 700C is enough to dissociate most of them.

    Now, mind you, even if we have to abandon dreams of Silicate life in extrem hot environment, it does not mean we think life could be identical to what we have on earth.

"In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." -- Carl Sagan, Cosmos

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