April 11, 2009

Telescope searches for life in space

Planets near stars cooler than Earth's sun may lack the material to produce life, say scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The scientists used the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope to search for hydrogen cyanide around 61 young stars, hydrogen cyanide being a component of a compound in DNA found in every living thing on Earth, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

The researchers found hydrogen cyanide in 30 percent of the yellow, sun-like stars, but none around cooler, smaller stars, such as M-dwarfs and brown dwarfs, said Ilaria Pascucci of Johns Hopkins, the lead author of the research.

Around cooler stars, there might not be enough hydrogen cyanide to kick-start the complex chemical reactions necessary to form life, Pascucci said.

The results appear to dispel the argument of some scientists who have suggested concentrating on relatively cool, dim stars to find extraterrestrial life, the Times reported.