the simplest organic molecule, widely acknowledged to be a sign of potential life.

A powerful new model to detect life on planets outside of our solar system, more accurately than ever before, has been developed by UCL researchers.

Extrasolar planet HD189733b rises from behind its star. Is there methane on this planet? (Credit: ESA)

The new model focuses on methane, the simplest organic molecule, widely acknowledged to be a sign of potential life.

Researchers from UCL and the University of New South Wales have developed a new spectrum for ‘hot’ methane which can be used to detect the molecule at temperatures above that of Earth, up to 1,500K/1220°C – something which was not possible before.

To find out what remote planets orbiting other stars are made of, astronomers analyse the way in which their atmospheres absorb starlight of different colours and compare it to a model, or ‘spectrum’, to identify different molecules.

Professor Jonathan Tennyson, (UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy) co-author of the study said: “Current models of methane are incomplete, leading to a severe underestimation of methane levels on planets.We anticipate our new model will have a big impact on the future study of planets and ‘cool’ stars external to our solar system, potentially helping scientists identify signs of extraterrestrial life.”

Read More: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0614/170614-methane-spectra

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