Hubble detected the organic molecule methane within the atmosphere of a large Jupiter-like planet 63 light years away. Although the planet, HD 189744b, is too hot to support life (1260 degrees), it is a breakthrough in that the discovery demonstrates the ability to detect organic molecules on exoplanets spectroscopically.
In the future this method could be used to take measurements of Earth-like planets orbiting within the habitable zones of other stars to look for organic molecules that will help in the search for life.
The space-based telescope was used during five orbits last May to look at the atmosphere of HD 189744b with its Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer. NASA has scheduled a full press conference this Wednesday, the day before the results are due to be published in Nature.
This comes on the heels of the news from December that Texas’ own McDonald Observatory caught an atmosphere in an extrasolar planet from the ground. Hubble had detected atmospheres before, but its current systems are broken. This opens up the way for more land-based observatories to work on the hunt for earth-like planets.
Speaking of Hubble, in August, Space Shuttle Atlantis will be heading up to Hubble for repairs and to load brand new instruments on board. The improvements will make Hubble’s visual acuity 90 times more powerful than its early days.
Take yourself back in time, and remember the absolute wonder we all felt when Hubble images began streaming down. The utter clarity, the distance it peered, how it looked back billions of years to the early days of the universe.
Ninety. Times. More. Powerful.
Additional new instruments will aid in the peeling back the mists of the universe, in realms unseen to the human eye.
NASA has its problems, the bloated bueracracy, and the ridiculous shilling for AlBore. For all its problems, they do great work, for not much money, in terms of the overall budget. God Bless NASA.