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Word from the Wetherbee (Plantarium): Planet’s Lack of Odor Could Rewrite Chemistry

By   /   September 22, 2010  /   Comments

The rules of chemistry are being reevaluated. Scientists at the University of Central Florida recently published the results of a study that report a planet with chemistry that is leaving scientists puzzled because it is missing one of the most common and plentiful compounds found on gas giants: methane. On Earth, methane—a particularly odorous compound—is perceived as evidence of life, but on alien planets it is merely common chemistry.

The planet in question is Giant Planet GJ 436b, 33 light years away in the constellation Leo. The planet is about the size of Neptune and has an atmosphere mostly composed of carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. According to scientists Kevin Stevenson and Joseph Harrington, both of UCF, these discoveries of the planet’s chemistry were made by analyzing the planet’s spectrum, a technology that takes advantage of each chemical compound’s unique frequency on the light spectrum.

The scientists have several theories for where the methane on the planet, if any at all, may be going. They have postulated that either it is being broken down by intense UV radiation from the planet’s star, or that it is being carried away by strong vertical winds. One other theory they have is that the planet may have an alien chemistry. According to the researchers, this planet could be the first evidence that chemistry does not always follow the same ‘rules’ as it does in our own solar system. If this is the case, most of what scientists think they know about chemistry could be radically altered.

““GJ 436b is telling us something important,” says Harrington: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.””

Credit: NASA Science, Dr. Tony Phillips, Dauna Coulter, and Science@NASA

Thronateeska Heritage Center is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization located at 100 West Roosevelt Avenue, Albany, Georgia.  Facilities include the History Museum, Wetherbee Planetarium, Science Museum, and Transportation Museum.  Admission is free to the History & Science Museum.  Annual Memberships are available.  Group reservations may be scheduled by contacting the Thronateeska Heritage Center office at (229) 432-6955.

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  • Published: 1806 days ago on September 22, 2010
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  • Last Modified: September 19, 2010 @ 8:28 pm
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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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