London researchers have discovered that at least one of the earliest precursors of life can form in interstellar space without the need for sunlight, in a process known as ‘dark chemistry’.
The prebiotic molecule in question is the amino acid glycine, one of the simplest and most basic building blocks of life.
It was previously thought that it took irradiation of a star to form, but a team of scientists investigating the origins of life have now discovered that it can form in the ruthless desert of interstellar space, far away. starlight and the gravitational pull of the planets. .
Wisteria was previously found on comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, so the boffins conducted lab experiments and modeling to see if they could recreate the prebiotic molecule using “Dark chemistry” which occurs without the presence of energy irradiation.
Through a series of independent experiments, the team discovered that methylamine, itself a precursor to glycine, could form without needing star energy in the harshness of interstellar space.
Astronomers found methylamine in the interstellar medium and detected it on comet 67P / CG, so their “dark chemistry hypothesis” was off to a good start.
Next, they introduced methylamine-enriched ice into an ultra-vacuum system called SURFRESIDE2, which is custom-designed to mimic conditions found in interstellar space. The system temperature has been lowered to 13 Kelvin (-260 degrees Celsius or -436 degrees Fahrenheit) to allow ice to form in the chamber.
To their amazement, wisteria formed. They then produced astrochemical models to validate what they had found, drawing their findings from a day’s experiment and extrapolating them to millions of years. They found that glycine could form in small but large amounts with sufficient time.
Principal researcher Sergio Ioppolo, from Queen Mary University in London, explained: “In the laboratory, we were able to simulate conditions in dark interstellar clouds where cold dust particles are covered with thin layers of ice and then processed by impacting atoms, causing the fragmentation of precursor species and the recombination of intermediates. reagents.
“Once formed, glycine can also become a precursor of other complex organic molecules”, added the astrochemist.
Research is another step back to the dawn of time and the origins of all the species we have yet discovered in the universe.
The team extrapolates that, in principle at least, other amino acids such as alanine and serine could also form in the dark clouds of interstellar space. This “Enriched organic molecular inventory” is then picked up by comets and meteorites that pass before finally being delivered to young planets, like Earth.
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