The Night Sky in August.

New Moon: 11th August. Full Moon: 26th August.

aug sky 18

This month sees the Perseid meteor shower, one of the best showers to experience! The shower began in July and peaks around the 13th so the moon will not make it harder to see feint meteors. The shower is made from remnants of comet Swift-Tuttle and can be a lovely rich event. Look towards the north after dark, the later you can stay out the better! The shower ends around the 24th August.

Venus remains a brilliant object in the evening sky at magnitude -4.5. It is starting to get lower in the sky now having reach greatest eastern elongation on the 17th.

Mars is now best seen around midnight and is slightly easier to view this month than it has been. Shining at magnitude -2.3 it is by far the brightest object in the zodiacal constellation of Capricornus.

Jupiter is beginning to be less favourably placed in the sky as by the time darkness sets in it is getting nearer to the horizon. The crescent moon passes by the planet on the 17th. This is a good month to look at it through a telescope to see the shadows of its four largest moons being cast onto the planet’s atmosphere.

Saturn can be seen all evening as it dims slightly from magnitude +0.2 to +0.3. The moon passes just above the ringed world on the 21st.

Published in: on August 7, 2018 at 09:07  Leave a Comment  

The Night Sky for June 2018


New moon; 13th June. Full moon; 28th June.

Summer Solstice; 21st June. Summertime begins.

Longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and the shortest day in the southern hemisphere.

Mercury appears as an evening object mid-month. Around the 15th   it is visible low in the west for an hour after sunset. By the month’s end it sets around 11pm. It is elusive, luckily it lies below the winter star Pollux in the constellation Gemini. Do not try looking for it until the sun has fully disappeared below the horizon.

Even in the light summer sky Venus makes is a splendid object visible until around midnight this month. It shines at a magnificent magnitude of -4.0. on the 8th it p[asses just below Pollux and on the 16th crescent moon passes nearby, making a lovely photographic object.

Jupiter makes for a lovely night-time sight and is visible from sunset until about 3h30 early in the month and by the end of the month setting at just after 2am. Jupiter is the brightest object in the feint constellation of Libra. The crescent moon passes by on the 23rd to help locate it.

Also visible most of the night is Saturn. It rises around 11pm at the start of the month and sets around 06h30. Towards the end of June it rises earlier at 21h30 and sets earlier at around 5am. It is low in the sky in the constellation of Scorpius. It reaches magnitude 0.0 by the end of the month. On the 28th the Full Moon will be just above the ringed world.

If you want a telescopic challenge try finding Uranus. It is difficult to find, it cannot be seen with the naked eye (it is at magnitude +5.8) and it lies close to the horizon in the morning twilight. Luckily to help you find this remote world the Moon will be just below it on the 10th.

Published in: on June 5, 2018 at 14:19  Leave a Comment  

The May Night Sky.


New moon: 15th. May. Full moon: 29Th. May.

Venus is a brilliant evening object brightening slightly from magnitude -3.9 to -4.0 over the month. On the 15th it reaches perihelion; the closest point in its orbit to the Sun. On the 17th the crescent moon will be nearby and provide a lovely sight.

Jupiter is visible all night and reaches opposition on the 9th and will be shining at magnitude -2.5. Opposition is the point where the Sun, Earth, and an object are lie in an approximately straight line and in the same direction as seen from the Sun. Opposition occurs only for superior planets, that is those which lie further away from the Sun than Earth. The crescent moon passes nearby on the 27th.

Saturn is best seen in the early hours of the morning. It is quite low in the sky. The moon passes by on the 4th to help you find the ringed world.

This month sees the peak of the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. The maximum occurs on the 6th but can last for up to a week. So the moon should not be too much of an issue The shower lasts until the 28th so it is a nice long shower to look out for. This shower is made from material left behind by Halley’s Comet.


Published in: on May 8, 2018 at 09:25  Leave a Comment  
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The April Night Sky.

April sky18

New Moon: 16th April, Full Moon: 30th April.

This month Mercury is a morning object; it rises a little before dawn and will be difficult to see as it is low to the horizon. On the 14th the waning crescent moon is to the south of the planet.

Venus is a lovely object in the evening sky; it shines at a brilliant magnitude of -3.8 and is well placed for observing not setting until after 22h. The day old moon passes Venus on the 17th.

The red planet Mars rises just before 03h mid-month and is fairly low down in the sky in Sagittarius. The ringed planet Saturn and Mars make a lovely close pairing on the 2nd Mars will be to the south in a sight visible to the naked eye. On the 7th the moon passes close by both planets and should also make for a lovely sight.

Jupiter rises before 22h and is visible all night long. Although not terribly high in the sky it will make for an excellent object to look at. It shines at magnitude -2.4 in the feint constellation of Libra. The moon passes by twice this month on the 3rd. and the 30th.

First magnitude Saturn, like Mars, is to be found in Sagittarius as an early morning object. On the second these two planets can be found very close to each other. On the 7th. Saturn is below the moon, so will help find the ringed planet. It becomes easier to see as the month progresses as it rises earlier and earlier than the Sun. An interesting bit of celestial mechanics occurs on the 17th, when Saturn reaches aphelion; this is the furthest point in a planet’s orbit from the sun. Unlike the Earth which reaches aphelion once a year (in the northern hemisphere winter) Saturn only reaches aphelion every 29 and a half years.

Published in: on April 2, 2018 at 12:02  Leave a Comment  

The March Night Sky.


Full Moon: 2nd. and 31st. March. New Moon: 17th.

20th. March is the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. 25th. March Clocks go forward one hour.

This will be the best month of the year to see Mercury. The elusive world is an evening object shining at magnitude -1.0. On the 4th it is just 1.1° north of the much brighter Venus, later on in the month, the 19th, Mercury again passes by Venus although not as closely as the first time. By the end of the month Mercury will begin to disappear into the twilight.

At magnitude -3.9 Venus shines brightly in the evening sky. It starts the month close to Mercury. On the 18th just to the north of the day old moon which could make for a lovely sight and photograph. On the 29th Venus passes 0.1° south of Uranus. You will need a telescope or binoculars to see Uranus (which is just beyond naked eye visibility at magnitude +5.9.) The pair will be low in the sky and will be a challenge to see.

Mars, the red planet, rises just before 03h mid-month and lies close to the waning moon on the 10th. It will be low in the morning sky as it moves from Ophiuchus into Sagittarius. It brightens over the month from magnitude +0.8 to +0.3.

Jupiter rises around midnight but is low in the sky and outshines (at magnitude -2.1) all the stars in the feint constellation of Libra. The moon passes to its north on the 7th.

Another low in the sky object this month is Saturn. It rises before 03h30 mid-month and shines at magnitude +0.5 and is to be found in Sagittarius.


On This Day…

55 years ago – March 21st 1963: USSR lost contact with Mars 1 when it was 66 million miles from earth. Mars 1 would become the first spacecraft of any nation to fly past Mars.

March 28th: Saturn/Apollo 4 was launched by Saturn 1 from Cape Canaveral. It was a Suborbital test flight of the first stage of the Saturn rocket.

50 Years Ago – March 2nd 1968: Zond 4 was launched by Proton K rocket from Baikonur, USSR. It was an unmanned test flight of the Soviet circumlunar spacecraft.

March 27th: Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, died in a MIG-15 crash northwest of Moscow.

40 Years Ago – March 2nd 1978: Soyuz 28 crew were launched aboard a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur to the Salyut-6 space station. The crew was: Alexei A.Gubarev and Vladimir Remek (Czech), who was the first non-Soviet, non-American. space explorer making this the first international space crew.

10 Years Ago – March 9th 2008: Jules Verne, also known as ATV 1, was launched by an Ariane 5 rocket. ATV-1 was ESA’s first automatic transfer vehicle, and the first non-US and non-Russian vehicle to successfully dock with the ISS.

5 Years Ago – March 1st 2013: SpaceX Dragon CRS-2 automated ISS cargo vehicle was launched from Cape Canaveral. This second operational Dragon cargo vehicle was the first commercial vehicle to carry externally mounted cargo to the ISS.

February Night Sky


New Moon: 15th. February.

February is an unusual month as it contains a ‘black moon.’ The moon isn’t really black there is no Full moon at all this month, instead there are two full moons in January and March. This phenomenon happens once every twenty years, so enjoy!

Mars lies low in the south east this month moving from Scorpius into Ophiuchus at the start of the month. On the 9th it will be found below the crescent moon and on the 11th. the red planet will be near to the red star Antares. Mars will be slightly feinter than the star but should make for an interesting sight.

Jupiter rises after midnight and shines at a bright -2.0. it lies in the very feint constellation of Libra so will be quite noticeable. On the 7th. the crescent moon passes of the king of the planets.

Saturn rises before dawn but is very low down in Sagittarius. The moon passes to the north of the ringed world on the 11th.

For more of a challenge get your binoculars and see if you can find Uranus. The planet remains in Pisces setting by midnight by month’s end. The crescent moon passes very close by on the 20th.

On This Day:

65 Years Ago – February 21st. 1953: First powered flight of Bell X-1A.

55 Years Ago – February 14th. 1963: Syncom 1 was launched by Thor Delta, from Cape Canaveral. It was the first communications satellite placed in geosynchronous orbit. Unfortunately communications with the satellite was lost shortly after it achieved orbit.

50 Years Ago – February 19th. 1968: Goddard Space Flight Centre launched its 1,000th sounding rocket, an Aerobee 150 carrying X-ray detection instruments it was launched from White Sands Missile Range (WSMR).

45 Years Ago – February 6th. 1973: Marshall Space Flight Centre forms the Large Space Telescope Task Force to plan for and create a preliminary design of a Large Space Telescope (LST). It would be launched by the Space Shuttle in 1990 as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

February 15th.: Pioneer 10 crosses the asteroid belt without damage and becomes the world’s farthest travelling spacecraft of the time.

15 Years Ago – February 1st. 2003: After a 16-day mission, STS 107, the Space Shuttle Columbia began its re-entry but broke apart over western Texas at 9:00 a.m. EST when the shuttle was at an altitude of 60 km with a speed of 20,100 km/hr.

The crew did not survive. It was Columbia’s 28th mission. Following an extensive investigation, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board identified the primary reason for the accident: damage caused by foam insulation falling off the External Tank (ET) and striking the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing.

The agency successfully returned the Shuttle to flight on July 26, 2005 with the launch of STS-114, and retired the Shuttle in 2011 with no further accidents.

sts107 patch


Published in: on February 3, 2018 at 16:41  Leave a Comment  

January Night Sky


Night sky at 00h on the 15th. January 2018.

New Moon; 17th. January. Full Moon 2nd. and 31st. January.

There are lots of planets to observe this month, unfortunately you will have to get up early in the morning to see them! There is also a ‘blue moon’ this month; that happens when there are two Full Moons in the same month.

Mercury the closest planet to the Sun rises almost two hours before the Sun at the start of the month (06:39 GMT). The first half of January will be the best time to see this very elusive world as by the month’s end it rises just quarter of an hour before the sun. It will be the brightest object in the feint constellation of Ophiuchus. The moon is north of Mercury on the 15th and Saturn is to Mercury’s upper right on the 13th.

Mars is a also a morning object and like Mercury is also quite low in the sky in Libra. On the 7th the red planet (which shines at magnitude +1.5) will be very close to the much brighter Jupiter. On the 11th the crescent moon will be nearby to the two planets and form a lovely sight.

Jupiter is to be found in the feint constellation of Libra. The king of the planets outshines, at magnitude -1.8, everything nearby.

Saturn is very difficult to see at the start of the month, although by the end of January it may be possible to catch a glimpse of it low in the southwest before sunrise. It lies in the summer constellation of Sagittarius. The moon passes just north of the ringed planet on the 15th.

The first meteor shower of the year peaks this month; the Quadrantids began on the 28th. December, peak on the 3rd. and then come to an end around the 12th. This can be an impressive shower with short sharp meteors. This year the moon will be a problem and will drown out all but the brightest of meteors.

On This Day…

60 Years Ago – January 4th. 1958: Sputnik 1 re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

50 Years Ago – January 7th. 1968: Surveyor 7 was launched by Atlas Centaur from Cape Canaveral. It Landed on the Moon on the 9TH. of January.

January 22nd.: Apollo 5 was launched by Saturn 1B, from Kennedy Space Centre. It was the first unmanned Earth orbital test of the Apollo spacecraft’s Lunar Module (LM).

45 Years Ago – January 8th. 1973: Luna 21 was launched by Proton K, from Baikonur, USSR. January 16th: Lunokhod 2 drives onto lunar surface, leaving behind the Luna 21 lander.

35 Years Ago – January 26th. 1983: IRAS was launched It was the first of a series of infrared astronomical satellites used to conduct an all-sky survey for objects emitting infrared radiation and to provide a catalogue of infrared sky maps.

15 Years Ago – January 16th 2003: STS-107 (Space Shuttle Columbia) launched at 10:39 a.m. from Kennedy Space Centre (KSC). Crew: Rick D.Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel B. S.Clark, and Ilan Ramon (Israel). As a research mission, the crew was kept busy 24 hours a day performing various science experiments. A landing back at the launch site was planned for February 1st. after a 16-day mission but Columbia and crew were lost during re-entry over East Texas at about 9 a.m. Eastern Time, 16 minutes prior to the scheduled touchdown at KSC. Mission Duration: 15 days, 22 hours, 20 minutes, 22 seconds. Ilan Ramon, an Israeli Air Force pilot, was the first Israeli to fly in space.

January 22nd.: Pioneer 10 spacecraft sends its last signal to Earth, after more than 30 years of operations.

Published in: on December 30, 2017 at 13:07  Leave a Comment  

A Bubbling Star.

We know that eventually the Sun will become a red giant. What then will the Sun look like?

In about 4.5 to 5 billion years the sun will swell and become a red giant star; this happens as the star runs out of hydrogen to fuse for energy and turns to material that’s harder to fuse. This means the balance between gravity and the expansive force caused by this nuclear fusion starts to become unbalanced and the sun will swell. It will then go through a phase of expansion and contraction where it expels its outer layers leaving behind a planetary nebula.

The Sun is very active: images show it to be a swirling, seething place;

solar granulation

The Sun is made from seven different layers;

At the centre is the core, this is where nuclear fusion occurs.

Next there is the radiative zone which “radiates” the energy created in the core by the emission and reabsorption of photons.

Then comes the convection zone; light particles (and all other particles) can take 170,000 years to travel through this layer. The behaviour of photons here is called the “random walk” where the photon collides with other photons: this happens as it is such a dense region.


Next is the photosphere this is the first of the three parts that make up the Sun’s atmosphere: this is where photons are finally emitted and give the sun its brightness. Oddly enough this area is opaque to light, meaning we can’t see trough it. If we could we would be able to view the thermonuclear core directly!

The transfer of energy from the convection zone below appears in the form of granules (see the photo above). As the hotter gas rises up, the cooler gas descends only to be re-heated by the convection layer and the process repeats itself. Sometimes disturbances in the magnetic field will produce sunspots, which occur within the photoshphere.

The chromosphere is next; the temperature ranges from 4400K at the base to 25 000K at its outer edge; no-one knows why the temperature rises so dramatically as it goes away from the surface of the Sun, it’s possible magnetism may be involved but it remains a puzzle.

Finally we have the corona. This outer layer is very dim – a million times dimmer than the photosphere and is the hottest region of the Sun at 10^6 K. Because the Corona extends several million kilometres into space, there is a lot of room for molecules to move. It is this movement that is the source of the solar winds. The high temperature of the Corona can force ions to move as fast as a million kilometres per hour. We can only see the corona during total solar eclipses when the disc of the sun is totally obscured.

It seems that when the Sun does begin to enter its final phases of existence it will still be quite an active place; Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have for the first time directly observed granulation patterns on the surface of a star outside the Solar System — the ageing red giant π1 Gruis. It is located 530 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Grus (The Crane), π1 Gruis is a cool red giant. It has about the same mass as our Sun, but is 700 times larger and several thousand times as bright.

The image below from the PIONIER instrument reveals the convective cells that make up the surface of this huge star, which has 700 times the diameter of the Sun. Each cell covers more than a quarter of the star’s diameter and measures about 120 million kilometres across.

The surface of the red giant star π1 Gruis from PIONIER on the

Just one of these granules would extend from the Sun past Venus. The surfaces (photospheres) of many giant stars are obscured by dust, which hinders observations. However, in the case of π1 Gruis, although dust is present it is far from the star so it does not have a significant effect on the new infrared observations.

The Sun’s photosphere, in comparison, contains about two million convective cells, with typical diameters of just 1500 kilometres. The vast size differences in the convective cells of these two stars can be explained in part by their varying surface gravities. π1 Gruis is just 1.5 times the mass of the Sun but much larger, resulting in a much lower surface gravity and just a few, extremely large, granules.

While stars more massive than eight solar masses end their lives in dramatic supernovae explosions, less massive stars like this one – and our Sun – gradually expel their outer layers, resulting in beautiful planetary nebulae. Previous studies of π1 Gruis found a shell of material 0.9 light-years away from the central star, thought to have been ejected around 20 000 years ago. This relatively short period in a star’s life lasts just a few tens of thousands of years – compared to the overall lifetime of several billion – and these observations reveal a new method for probing this fleeting red giant phase.

So it seems there will be a lot to observe on the Sun even as it enters its old age.

PIONIER or the Precision Integrated-Optics Near-infrared Imaging ExpeRiment is an instrument on the Interferometer of the Very Large Telescope. Interferometry is the process of collecting beams of light and combining them together to extract more information and greater resolution from the object being observed. PIONIER can collect up to six beams of light making it incredibly sensitive.

Julien Milli, ESO astronomer at Paranal gives this musical analogy: “the object represents the complete song, and each baseline represents one of the notes that make up the piece. The more baselines we have, the more notes we have, and the more complete our version of the song is.”

PIONIER instrument

Another highlight of PIONIER is its spectral coverage. Adding to the information obtained. For example “…this helps us to characterise the warm dust around a star, providing relevant insights on the formation process,” says Julien Milli.

By using two or more light beams, an interference pattern can be formed with these beams. Because the wavelength of the visible light is very short, small changes in the differences in the optical paths (distance travelled) between the two beams can be detected (as these differences will produce noticeable changes in the interference pattern) meaning more information can be extracted from the light. (This technique is also used in Radio Astronomy.)

How does PIONIER work? It is an interferometer, so once the light reaches the instrument, it is sent across an optical circuit, smaller than a credit card, which brings the light waves from up to four different telescopes together in a very precise way so that they create an interference pattern. An interference pattern consists of fringes, i.e. alternative dark and bright stripes with a given contrast between them, so the final result is not a conventional image.

There’s a lot of engineering goes into Astronomy!

The December Night Sky.




Full Moon; 3rd. December. New Moon: 18th. December.

Venus is low in the dawn sky, it shines at a magnificently bright magnitude of -3.9 but will be lost in the dawn by the 7th. You will need to be quick to see it.

Mars starts the month close to the bright star Spica in Virgo. Mars is slightly feinter than Spica at magnitude +1.7 compared with Spica at +1.0. The red planet is moving eastwards into Libra brightening as it does so and by the months end lies next to the fantastically named star Zubenelgenubi (also known as α Librae.). Libra is a feint constellation and even though this star is the brightest one in Libra (magnitude +2.8) it is much feinter than Mars at magnitude +1.5. Luckily the moon passes to the left of Mars on the 13th. and 14th. so will help you in finding the planet.

Jupiter also lies close to Zubenelgenubi this month (to the star’s left) and shines at a lovely -1.7 (it fades slightly over the month to -1.8.) By the end of the month both Mars and Jupiter will be close by each other lying either side of the star. Use the planets to find the star with binoculars and you won’t be disappointed; α Librae is a double star. It’s companion takes 200,000 years to orbit α Librae. Zubenelgenubi lies almost on the ecliptic which is the path across the sky the planets appear to take. This is why mars and Jupiter are so close to it this month.


On This Day…

100 Years Ago – December 16 1917: Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke born. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of his best known works. He was also the first person to propose the concept of geostationary satellites.

55 Years Ago – December 14th. 1962: Mariner 2 flew past Venus. It was the first successful planetary flyby.

45 Years Ago – December 7th. 1972: Apollo 17 launched aboard a Saturn V rocket from Cape Canaveral. It Landed on Moon on December 1th.1 in the Taurus-Littrow region. Crew: Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt. It was the last Apollo moon mission.

December 7th.: The “Blue Marble” photograph was taken by the Apollo 17 crew.

15 Years Ago – December 29th. 2002: Shenzhou 4 (meaning Divine Vessel), a Chinese unmanned test satellite was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in north-western China by a Long March 2F rocket. It carried a retrievable crew module with all furnishings, test equipment, and dummy astronauts to assess its viability for a manned launch.

5 Years Ago – December 2012: The Messenger spacecraft discovers water ice in Mercury’s polar regions.


Published in: on December 19, 2017 at 13:03  Leave a Comment  


The earliest writers dreamt of life on the planets in our solar system; the Aborigines have stories dating thousands of years about the Dreamtime and how we came from the stars. The satirist Lucian (120 – c185 AD) claims in “A True Story” to have visited the moon after his ship was caught in a whirlwind which sends them to the Moon: a place inhabited by beings at war with the people of the Sun over the colonisation of the Morning Star, Venus. The title of first science fiction writer is most likely his!

Lucian.                                                       H.G. Wells.

In more recent times we had HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ (1897) followed a few years later by the astronomer Percival Lowell’s canals on Mars (1906) – where he believed he saw artificial canals, going so far as to draw them – to the idea that Venus might contain dinosaurs we have always been desperate to find life “out there”.

Looking for life beyond Earth is one of the most fascinating, exciting and difficult things to do. Every time we think we might have found a clue a discovery comes along to challenge us.

Modern research looks for ‘bio-markers’; these are chemicals that could only be present as a result of life. Nothing has been found (so far!!) in the solar system so the search has broadened into he universe to the exo-planets, the worlds around distant stars.

How do you find which gasses are present in a world in another solar system? It seems that the size (diameter) of the planet plays a role in whether we can detect atmospheres; a recent report in the Astrophysical Journal ( goes into more detail. According to Angelos Tsiaras, the lead author, “More than 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered but, so far, we’ve studied their atmospheres largely on an individual, case-by-case basis.”


Using the Hubble Space telescope researchers looked at the spectral profiles of 30 exoplanets and analysed them for the characteristic fingerprints of gases that might be present. About half had strongly detectable atmospheres. Most of the atmospheres detected show evidence for clouds. The two hottest planets, where temperatures exceed 1,700 degrees Celsius, appear to have clear skies, at least at high altitudes. Results for these two planets indicate that titanium oxide and vanadium oxide are present in addition to the water vapour features found in all 16 of the atmospheres analysed successfully.

It is not only ‘Hot Jupiters’ that have had their atmospheres analysed: in April 2017 it was announced that Gliese 1132b, a super-earth, (that is a planet with a diameter upto 40% greater than the Earth’s) atmosphere had been detected. This is a major step in detecting signs of life in more earth like planets. (

gliese 1132b

How do astronomers detect the atmospheres? Well as a planet passes in front (transits) its host star the light from the star dims slightly; the planet blocks some of the light and the atmosphere absorbs some of the star light. If the composition of the star’s atmosphere is already known, when the planet transits the star, the planet’s atmosphere absorbs some of the starlight and changes what chemicals we can see from the starlight. It Is then possible to work out the composition of the planet’s atmosphere by the effect it had on the starlight.

The chemicals that astronomers look for when seeking life are called ‘bio-markers.’ They include Oxygen and Methane, which tend to be the product of organic processes and a chemical known as Freon-40. This latter was hoped to be a good indicator but, like Lucian’s moon people or Lowell’s canals things are not what they seem.

ALMA and Rosetta Detect Freon-40 in Space

Organohalogen methyl chloride (Freon-40) discovered by ALMA around the infant stars in IRAS 16293-2422

Freon-40 (CH3Cl), also known as methyl chloride. is known as an organohalogen; these are compounds which on Earth are formed by organic processes. Organohalogens consist of halogens (the inert gasses of the periodic table), such as chlorine and fluorine, bonded with carbon and sometimes other elements. On Earth, these compounds are created by some biological processes — in organisms ranging from humans to fungi —  as well as by industrial processes such as the production of dyes and medical drugs.

The idea was if Freon-40 is formed naturally on or earth or through artificial means then its detection in an exo-planet’s atmosphere would be a very good indicator of life, however that hoped has been dashed as Observations made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and ESA’s Rosetta mission, have revealed the presence of Freon-40 in gas around both an infant star and a comet. The star lies 400 light years way, the comet is the famous 61/P Churyamov-Gerasimenko; this is the comet that saw the European Rosetta probe orbit it and send the little lander Philae to its surface.

This is the first ever detection of them in interstellar space.

IRAS 16293-2422 in the constellation of Ophiuchus

This chart shows the location of the Rho Ophiuchi star formation region in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The star Rho Ophiuchi, which gives the region its name, is marked with the Greek letter rho (ρ). The position of IRAS 16293-2422, a young binary star with similar mass to the Sun, is marked in red.

This may mean that astronomers have understood things the wrong way round; rather than being a marker for life perhaps it is a necessary constituent of the ‘primordial soup’ from which life arises:

“ALMA’s discovery of organohalogens in the interstellar medium also tells us something about the starting conditions for organic chemistry on planets. Such chemistry is an important step toward the origins of life,” adds Karin Öberg, a co-author on the study.

This isn’t the only chemical that ALMA has detected, other molecules of astrobiological interest found around young stars on scales where planets may be forming have precursors to sugars and amino acids.

The discovery of Freon-40 around Comet 67P strengthens the idea that what we see in the pre-biological chemistry of distant protostars may have been what we would have seen in our own Solar System. It would seem that young solar systems inherit some of their chemical characteristics from their parent star forming cloud and then from cometary impacts.


  ALMA the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetrer Array.

It just shows, that when you think you may be onto a clue the Universe has different ideas!