by Maj. George Filer

Tim Radford, science editor of the Guardian reports that: "Astronomers have used the Hubble space telescope to detect the atmosphere of a planet circling a star 150 light years away." The discovery reawakens the dream of detecting extraterrestrial life in other star systems. A new breed of astrobiologists is convinced that life on any distant planet would leave its signature in the air -- just as methane and oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere would be a clue to any passing aliens that the planet was inhabited. "Only a decade ago, planets outside the solar system were still in the realm of science fiction," said David Charbonneau, of the California Institute of Technology, who led the study. "Searching for a star's unseen planetary companion was crazy, and hoping to see its atmosphere was even crazier." Now planets are discovered monthly, and even their atmospheres are in reach, he said. "Suddenly, discussing searches for Earth-like planets seems quite reasonable." But he discovered no sign of life. The atmosphere of the planet that circles the star HD209458, in the constellation Pegasus, is rich in sodium. The planet itself is likely to be an inhospitable gas giant, like Jupiter. More than 80 planets have now been identified around distant stars.

Thanks to Joe Stefula and Guardian 11/28/01

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