Methane, one of the simplest compounds known to play a role in the chemical genesis of life, was discovered for the first time to exist on a planet outside Earth’s solar system, the BBC reports. The planet, designated HD 189733b, is 63 light years away and also contains water, but is far too hot to support life as we know it.
Methane, composed of carbon and hydrogen, is the fundamental organic compound. "This is a crucial stepping stone to eventually characterizing prebiotic molecules on planets where life could exist," one scientist said of the detection by a space telescope. Scientists know the mass and orbital properties of about 270 extrasolar planets, but are just beginning to collect more detailed information.