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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 I'm a banana (1139431) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @11:15AM (#22392268)

    The fact that the element was detected at all
  • by blcamp (211756) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @11:17AM (#22392284) Homepage

    The fact that the element was detected at all
    There's certainly an element of misunderstanding here.

  • by slapout (93640) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @12:13PM (#22393058)
    "trace amounts of the gas methane" != "First Organic Molecules Found"
  • by Metasquares (555685) <slashdot@metasqu a r ed.com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @12:32PM (#22393300) Homepage

    Would such life depend on water? Well, not liquid water. It wouldn't be made up of combustable carbon chains, either.

    Slightly tangential, but I never did understand why we primarily evaluated the life supporting capability of a planet based on whether water could be present. We might know tons about terrestrial life, but we know nothing about how life could begin in a different environment. Our earth-centric assumptions may not hold, even though the same laws of chemistry and physics do.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @02:18PM (#22394764) Homepage

    Slightly tangential, but I never did understand why we primarily evaluated the life supporting capability of a planet based on whether water could be present. We might know tons about terrestrial life, but we know nothing about how life could begin in a different environment.

    You've answered your own question with the second sentence.

    See, we don't know how to look for things we can't even fathom. If we look for places with liquid water, we know that "life as we know it" might exist there. All other statements are guess-work.

    Looking for forms of "life as we can't even fathom it" is sorta difficult --- you could look at anything, and you say "well, a form of life I can't conceive of might be there, but I have no test or measurement", which is meaningless. Basically, scientists are sticking to what they know and can make statements about, since anything else would be random conjecture and speculation, and have nothing to do with science.

    It's not that tough of a concept. Once we know about life forms we've never conceived of, we could expand our search for the conditions which those might thrive in. Until then, we just kinda assume that anything there would have to be a total long shot and beyond what we can know. Since it has no predictive value whatsoever, they ignore it completely.

    Cheers
  • by thrawn_aj (1073100) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:43PM (#22396820)

    Pretty much every single statement about life made by a human being should really have an asterick [sic] saying "Life as we know know it."
    That's rather redundant. You've fallen into the same semantic trap that most armchair philosophers do (I'm not calling you one, just saying). Our usage of ANY word for a concept automatically implies the concept "AS WE KNOW IT", and not "as all it could ever be". If and when life that operates on principles other than "as we know them" is discovered, we will then have to decide whether to expand the meaning of the word 'life' to include the new stuff or whether to come up with a new word for it. Do you see what I'm getting at here? Science, thankfully, has explicit definitions for words. "Life" means something specific and is not wishy-washy and fluid as it is in mysticism and popular perception.

    Michael Crichton had a witty scene in The Andromeda Strain where the lead scientist systematically "proves" that a rock is "alive". It illustrates perfectly the danger of losing oneself in semantic trivialities instead of heeding the advice of an ancient quantum mechanic [sic] :P to "shut up and calculate".

    If I said that humans can't fly, it's not arrogance on my part. Our current definition of "human" has implicit "no-fly" clauses built into it :P. If you find a flying human somewhere, the International Linguistics Organization* would have to convene to redefine "human".

    ____

    *it could exist!

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)

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