So, I just wrote a story for Cosmos Magazine in Australia about the first discovery of methane gas on a planet in another solar system. Turns out the discovery also confirmed water vapour in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the star is so close to its sun that it bakes at a blazing hot 1000K, making life as we know it impossible.
One of the things I find most fascinating about the discovery besides the “WHOA! COOL!” factor is that the technique being used by the Hubble Space Telescope to detect the methane wasn’t thought possible when the Hubble originally blasted off into space. That offers a lot of potential for future telescopes like the Spitzer, Kepler, or James Webb. As Sarah Seager, an exoplanet astronomer at MIT commented in the press teleconference, “Spitzer or Webb will definitely suprass expections, and they could absolutely suprirse us [with what they are capable of].”
There is one drawback to the new space telescopes being built though. “[The new space telescopes are] being built to see the faintest objects in universe,” said Seager. “If earths are everywhere, for instance if there were an earth orbiting Alpha Centauri B, that star is so incredibly bright we couldn’t observe it. It’s too bright for the James Webb space telescope.”
Maybe we need a telescope that doesn’t have such great optics to look for Earths in our own backyard.