A Rich Protoplanetary Soup

For the past couple of years, I've always paused on headlines that have "Spitzer" in them when checking The New York Times website, thinking maybe it's about astronomy! But no, it was always something else. Hopefully such instances of momentary confusion will be a thing of the past very soon.

Dusty disk
An artist's concept shows a very young star encircled by a disk of gas and dust. The material in this protoplanetary disk will eventually form rocky planets.
NASA / JPL-Caltech
Today's issue of Science has more enticing Spitzer news, as researchers report on using the Spitzer Space Telescope to find evidence for life-friendly gases around other stars.

John Carr (Naval Research Laboratory) and Joan Najita (NOAO) found a new way to analyze data from Spitzer's infrared spectrograph to more easily tease out the gaseous composition of protoplanetary disks around young stars. They were able to detect carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen cyanide (HCN), and acetylene (C2H2) in the vicinity of the star AA Tauri. These compounds, along with water vapor, make good ingredients for a nice organic soup, much like that which probably existed in the early solar system. The new technique opens the door to analyzing the gases in the disks around other stars.

You'll find more details in yesterday's NASA news release.

And in case you didn't know, the Spitzer in Spitzer Space Telescope is Lyman Spitzer Jr. (1914-97), who had many significant accomplishments worth remembering.

4 thoughts on “A Rich Protoplanetary Soup

  1. Al Wilson

    I was certainly aware of Lyman Spitzer Jr, but had to conduct a quick search to find out who the other Spitzer was. Are you referring to Eliot Spitzer? Never heard of him before, but when I enter “Spitzer” at news.google.com I sure see a lot of articles about him…

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