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COSMOS plays role in hunt for extraterrestrial life

The COSMOS supercomputer has recently had an important part to play in helping researchers look for methane spectra in planets outside of our solar system. Methane is a terrestrial greenhouse gas which is also a major active component in cool stars and exoplanets. It is widely recognised as a potential sign of life on Earth-like planets.

Researchers from University College London and the University of New South Wales developed a new method of detecting methane at much higher temperatures than before, up to 1,500K/1220°C. The technique involves studying the ways in which planets’ atmospheres absorb starlight. Every atmosphere gives a unique spectrum of absorption lines, depending on the amount of methane present. It is anticipated that the new model will have a big impact on the study of exoplanets, since methane levels are severely underestimated by current methods of detection.

The discovery would not have been possible without the computing power and special shared-memory capability of COSMOS, since the modelling needed billions of spectral lines. The calculations required several million core-hours on DiRAC Facilities.

More information about this exoplanets work can be found here:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0614/170614-methane-spectra