Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hunt for extraterrestrial life gets massive methane boost

Date:
June 16, 2014
Source:
University College London
Summary:
A powerful new model to detect life on planets outside of our solar system more accurately than ever before has been developed by researchers. The new model focuses on methane, the simplest organic molecule, widely acknowledged to be a sign of potential life. The new model has been tested and verified by successfully reproducing in detail the way in which the methane in failed stars, called brown dwarfs, absorbs light.

Is there methane on this planet?
Credit: ESA (European Space Agency)

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

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/1220C - something that was not possible before.

To find out what remote planets orbiting other stars are made of, astronomers analyze the way in which their atmospheres absorb starlight of different colors 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."

The study, published in PNAS, describes how the researchers used some of the UK's most advanced supercomputers, provided by the Distributed Research utilising Advanced Computing (DiRAC) project and run by the University of Cambridge, to calculate nearly 10 billion spectroscopic lines, each with a distinct colour at which methane can absorb light. The new list of lines is 2000 times bigger than any previous study, which means it can give more accurate information across a broader range of temperatures than was previously possible.

Lead author of the study, Dr Sergei Yurchenko, (UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy) added: "The comprehensive spectrum we have created has only been possible with the astonishing power of modern supercomputers which are needed for the billions of lines required for the modelling. We limited the temperature threshold to 1,500K to fit the capacity available, so more research could be done to expand the model to higher temperatures still. Our calculations required about 3 million CPU (central processing unit) hours alone; processing power only accessible to us through the DiRAC project.

"We are thrilled to have used this technology to significantly advance beyond previous models available for researchers studying potential life on astronomical objects, and we are eager to see what our new spectrum helps them discover." he added.

The new model has been tested and verified by successfully reproducing in detail the way in which the methane in failed stars, called brown dwarfs, absorbs light.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sergei N. Yurchenko, Jonathan Tennyson, Jeremy Bailey, Morgan D. J. Hollis, and Giovanna Tinetti. Spectrum of hot methane in astronomical objects using a comprehensive computed line list. PNAS, June 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1324219111

Cite This Page:

University College London. "Hunt for extraterrestrial life gets massive methane boost." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616151502.htm>.
University College London. (2014, June 16). Hunt for extraterrestrial life gets massive methane boost. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616151502.htm
University College London. "Hunt for extraterrestrial life gets massive methane boost." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616151502.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Computers & Math News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ballmer Leaves Microsoft's Board, Has Advice For Nadella

Ballmer Leaves Microsoft's Board, Has Advice For Nadella

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Ballmer said he's leaving the board of directors and offered tips on how the company can be successful. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Google Can Gain From Special Accounts For Children

What Google Can Gain From Special Accounts For Children

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) Google will reportedly offer official accounts for children younger than 13 years old. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakingviews: Ebola's Economic Impact Could Eclipse SARS

Breakingviews: Ebola's Economic Impact Could Eclipse SARS

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 18, 2014) The virus ravaging Africa has yet to spread elsewhere. Yet Asia’s SARS crisis in 2003 showed how changes to behaviour can hurt the economy more than the actual disease, says Breakingviews' Una Galani. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Twitter Users Up In Arms After 'Favorites' Show Up In Feeds

Twitter Users Up In Arms After 'Favorites' Show Up In Feeds

Newsy (Aug. 17, 2014) Twitter is testing a feature on some users that shows favorited tweets from people they follow in their own timeline, the same way a retweet appears. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins