Free Newsletters - Space - Defense - Environment - Energy - Solar - Nuclear
by Staff Writers
London, UK (SPX) Jun 19, 2014
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/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."
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.
University College London
Life Beyond Earth
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.|