Researchers at UCL University in England developed a new model which will allow scientists to detect life on planets outside of our Solar System with the highest accuracy achieved so far.
The model is based on the detection of methane, the simplest organic molecule whose presence in the environment may be a sign of the possible existence of life.
To study the composition of distant planets, researchers analyze their atmospheres, which absorb light from the nearest stars and leave a signature of their chemical elements in the radiation spectrum.
The advance lies in the fact that the model makes it possible to extend the range of research for traces of methane as to include hotter environments with a temperature of up to 1220 ºC, which was previously not possible.
“Existing research on methane is incomplete, which leads to a serious underestimation of the levels of methane on planets,” explains Jonathan Tennyson, professor of physics at UCL.
The development of the model was possible thanks to the use of supercomputers that were able to process billions of lines of code and data.
The calculations required the corresponding 3 million hours of the CPU usage, which could be translated into three centuries of calculations on a conventional computer. The range was limited to 1220 ºC because of the limitations of the existing computational memory. Thus, it is certain that in the future the model will be expanded to include even higher temperatures.
The new model has been successfully tested in the case of brown dwarfs and gave the correct values for the absorption of light by methane, and the researchers now plan to test it on other celestial objects in order to find traces of life.
“We expect that our model will have a big impact on future studies of planets and cool stars outside the Solar System and may help scientists detect signs of extraterrestrial life,” concluded Tennyson.