There are “important reservoirs” of the large organic molecules necessary for the formation of life in the universe, the scientists discovered.
This discovery means that the basic chemical conditions that helped life form on Earth may exist on other planets in the galaxy.
Large organic molecules, the âstepping stonesâ between simple carbon structures and more complex molecules, have been identified in the protoplanetary disks surrounding newly formed stars.
These disks are dense collections of gas and dust, formed immediately after the collapse of a molecular cloud.
Laboratory and theoretical studies have suggested that these “raw ingredients” can create sugars, amino acids, and in some situations even the components of ribonucleic acid (RNA) – a single stranded molecule, similar to half of DNA helix.
It is believed that Earth was seeded with this material after the impacts of asteroids and comets, but it was not clear whether all protoplanetary disks contained these molecules.
Researchers at the University of Leeds sought to investigate this question by using the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (or ALMA) radio telescope in Chile to search for three molecules – cyanoacetylene (HC3N), acetonitrile (CH3CN) and cyclopropenylidene. (c-C3H2) – in disks between 300 and 500 light years from Earth.
These molecules were found in four of the five discs observed – and in much larger quantities than expected.
âALMA allowed us to search for these molecules for the first time in the innermost regions of these disks, at size scales similar to those of our solar system,â Dr. John Ilee, researcher at the University of Leeds.
Our analysis shows that the molecules are mainly located in these internal regions with abundances between 10 and 100 times greater than what the models had predicted. “
The regions where the molecules were located were also the same regions where asteroids and comets originated, meaning that the process that happened on Earth could form on other planets as well.
“The key result of this work shows that the same ingredients needed to seed life on our planet are also found around other stars. It is possible that the molecules needed to start life on planets are readily available. in all forming planets. environments, âsaid Dr. Catherine Walsh, of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy.