Thursday, March 27, 2008

Space May Be More Crowded Than We Thought

There have been some exciting developments in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

At last count, 277 planets have been found orbiting other stars. Considering that as little as 15 years ago that figure was a big fat zero, things are now moving along at a pretty good clip. In fact, such discoveries of "exoplanets" are pretty much routine now. But in what does qualify as stunning news, astronomers have now been able to detect methane in the atmosphere of one of those planets. Methane is considered an organic molecule. Though it may not confirm the existence of life on this other planet, it does strongly suggest the presence of Taco Bells.

In another surprise, German scientists have discovered a type of amino acid in a gas cloud surrounding a star near the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Amino acids combine to form proteins, which in turn are the very foundation of DNA.

Closer to home, the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn made a close pass over its moon Enceladus. In the process, Cassini was able to sample a plume that was erupting from the surface. And surprise, surprise, it also contained some organic compounds.

While all this news is a long way from encountering actual aliens who want to shove probes up your ass, it does indicate that the building blocks of life are far more common in our galaxy than previously thought.

0 thoughtful ramblings: