Carbon Dioxide Discovered on an Extrasolar Planet

Posted by Michael Pinto on Dec 10, 2008 in Science |

This is an artist's impression of the Jupiter-size extrasolar planet, HD 189733b, being eclipsed by its parent star. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the planet's atmosphere. The planet is a 'hot Jupiter,' which is so close to its parent star that it completes an orbit in only 2.2 days. This type of observation is best done when the planet's orbit carries it behind the star (as seen from Earth), which allows an opportunity to subtract the light of the star alone (when the planet is blocked) from that of the star and planet together prior to eclipse. This allows astronomers to isolate the infrared emission of the planet and make spectroscopic observations that chemically analyZe the day side atmosphere. The planet is too hot for life, as we know it. But under the right conditions, on a more Earth-like world, carbon dioxide can indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life. This observation demonstrates that chemical biotracers can be detected by space telescope observations.

It’s amazing how every day we find more and more obvious clues that there may be other signs of life in he universe. This latest discovery shows that astronomers have detected carbon dioxide (a basic requirement for plants to perform photosynthesis) on a Jupiter sized planet. What’s great about this is that someday this technique may used to hunt for hints of life on an Earth like planet:

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.”

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