Phyorg: The Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, is too hot for life. But the 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 vapor. Earlier this year, Hubble astronomers reported that they found methane in the planet’s atmosphere.
“This is exciting because Hubble is allowing us to see molecules that probe the conditions, chemistry, and composition of atmospheres on other planets,” says Mark Swain of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Thanks to Hubble we’re entering an era where we are rapidly going to expand the number of molecules we know about on other planets.”