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ESO: ALMA Discovered a Building Block of Life Near Infant-Like Star

Jun 08, 2017 02:05 PM EDT
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ESO announced that ALMA was used by astronomers to identify a prebiotic molecule near a young star considered to be building blocks of life. The prebiotic identified is methyl isocyanate.
(Photo : European Southern Observatory (ESO)/YouTube Screenshot)

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observed stars in their very early stages in their formation process also known as infant-like stars. During the observation, ALMA discovered traces of methyl isocyanate, which is considered as one of the building blocks of life.

This is the first time a prebiotic molecule was discovered near solar-type protostars. These type of stars is somehow similar to which the Solar System evolved from. The new surprising discovery will help astronomers understand how life on Earth originated.

In order to find prebiotic molecules near infant-like stars, astronomers used the capabilities of ALMA found in Chile. ALMA was then able to detect prebiotic complex or organic molecule methyl isocyanate in the multiple star system IRAS 16293-2422.

One of the teams was led by Rafael Martin-Doménech and Victor M. Rivilla, ahile the other one was led by Niels Ligterink and Audrey Coutens.

"This star system seems to keep on giving! Following the discovery of sugars, we've now found methyl isocyanate. This family of organic molecules is involved in the synthesis of peptides and amino acids, which, in the form of proteins, are the biological basis for life as we know it," Ligterink and Coutens explaned.

Because of ALMA's scientific capabilities, the teams were able to identify the molecule at different wavelengths across the radio spectrum. The chemical fingerprints of the prebiotic molecule were discovered in the warm, dense inner regions of the cocoon of gas and dust near the young infant-like star in the earliest stages of evolution. Both teams identified and isolated methyl isocyanate.

The region called IRAS 1693-2422 is a multiple system of very young stars. It is located 400 light-years away in the region called Rho Ophiuchi in the constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer).

Experts say that all planets in the Solar System formed using leftover materials from the formation of the sun. This is the reason why the discovery of prebiotic or the building block of life near infant-like stars is important for the study of the evolution of planets and life on Earth as well.

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