The most common type of star in our galaxy is also a kind which we can't see in the sky with the naked eye. They aren't bright enough. They are M-dwarf stars, and they are significantly dimmer, smaller and cooler than our sun.
Now, observations made with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, a space-based infrared observatory, suggest that planets orbiting these cool stars may contain "prebiotic" material -- the elements required for the formation of life, but not the same kind of chemistry present on Earth when life sprang forth some 4 billion years ago.
Spitzer detected hydrogen cyanide -- an organic, prebiotic precursor to amino acid -- around stars like our sun, but none were found near cooler stars.
Adenine, a chemical element of DNA found in all living things on Earth, can be made when five hydrogen cyanide molecules combine.
We now know the chemistry of some of these young exoplanets is different. And that suggests that if life does form on another world, it could look a lot different too.
Then again, life could very well be jump-started by a mix of chemicals brought over by a meteorite, a.k.a. Panspermia.
- Sign a petition to add the option for US taxpayers to contribute to NASA on the IRS 1040 tax form
- See what's in the sky tonight
- Download the new Google Earth 5.0, which now has an interactive map of the entire surface of Mars
- Buy a beginner telescope from the Discovery Channel store ($99.00)
- A Possible New World Fit for Life (April 28, 2009)
- Blast From the Past (March 28, 2009)
- Captured on Film: The Personification of Dread (March 13, 2008)
- Kepler and the Gate to the Black Forest (February 15, 2008)
- Famous 400-Year-Old Star Death Observed (December 7, 2008)
- EDITORIAL: The Final Frontier According to Ptolemy, Kennedy, Hubble and Obama (November 17, 2008)
- One Search for Extraterrestrial Life May End (July 10, 2008)
- Martian Soil Appears to Support Life, Scientists "Flabbergasted" (June 28, 2008)
- DNA Building Blocks Found in Meteorite Formed in Deep Space (June 24, 2008)
- Death of Star Captured for First Time (June 1, 2008)
- Astronomers Locate Youngest Planet (April 7, 2008)
- By-product of Life Found on Distant Planet (March 20, 2008)