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The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. This is an important step along the trail of finding the chemical biotracers of extraterrestrial life, as we know it.
The Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, is too hot for life. But new Hubble observations are a proof-of-concept demonstration that the basic chemistry for life can be measured on planets orbiting other stars. Organic compounds can also be a by-product of life processes and their detection on an Earth-like planet may someday provide the first evidence of life beyond Earth.
Previous observations of HD 189733b by Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope found water vapour. Earlier this year Hubble found methane in the planet’s atmosphere.