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Methane could help scientists discover alien life

Artist's concept of extrasolar planet HD189733b. UCL suggests the planet contains 20 times more methane than previously thought. Courtesy: ESA

Artist's concept of extrasolar planet HD189733b. UCL suggests the planet contains 20 times more methane than previously thought. Courtesy: ESA


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, June 23, 2014, 5:06 - Research out of University College London (UCL) suggests that the presence of methane could be indicative of alien life, and they've developed a computer model to detect it.

According to the university, the new model is capable of detecting life on planets outside our solar system "more accurately than ever before." It does so by searching for signs of methane, a known indicator of potential life.

For the first time, scientists will now be able to detect methane molecules at temperatures up to 1,220 degrees Celsius.

"Current models of methane are incomplete, leading to a severe underestimation of methane levels on planets," Professor Jonathan Tennyson, co-author of the study says in a statement.

"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."


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The method is a departure from the long-held belief that water, and water alone, could signify alien life.

For the past few years, scientists have speculated that life may be able to evolve in other environments as well.

UCL used supercomputers to churn through "billions of lines" of computer code to create the model.

Lead author Dr. Sergei Yurchenko says the calculations required 3 million central processing unit hours to complete.

"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 says.

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