As elusive as alien life has been to detect in the universe, there is increasing evidence that the potential for its emergence could be more widespread than previously thought. Astronomers have detected a chemical precursor necessary in the formation of proteins in a young star system roughly 400 light years away. And where there is evidence that points to the potential of life, there is the also the potential for discovering that Earth is not alone in producing living organisms.
Two separate teams of researchers using the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array) telescopes in Chile have announced the detection of methyl isocyanate, a molecule necessary for the formation of organic molecules, around stars in a relatively young system. According to the Daily Mail, the existence of the prebiotic molecule in the cluster of star systems studied (designated as IRAS 16293-2422) suggests that there is a possibility that complex organic molecules could develop in the early life of stars. In fact, researchers found the molecule, similar to those that form peptide bonds (the cohesive structure that ties amino acids together in proteins), around every star in the cluster.
In short, the potential exists for alien life to be more prevalent throughout the cosmos.
What makes the discovery more exciting to astronomers is that the young stars are much like our own Sun.
Rafael Martin-Domenech, an astronomer at the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial, said, “We are particularly excited about the result because these protostars are very similar to the Sun at the beginning of its lifetime, with the sort of conditions that are well suited for Earth-sized planets to form.”
“By finding prebiotic molecules in this study, we may now have another piece of the puzzle in understanding how life came about on our planet.”
The search for alien life is often a byproduct of scientists attempting to get a better grasp of how the cosmos works. It is often tied into understanding how life began on Earth. As reported by The Inquisitr, recent analysis of data gathered in 2014 from the comet 67P revealed that the comet was deficient in heavy isotopes of xenon but held an isotope of that noble gas that existed in the Earth’s atmosphere and for which scientists have been able to pinpoint a source of origin.The researchers now believe that the xenon isotope was delivered to Earth during the years of its early formation by comets like 67P.
Other materials on the comet suggest that the space rock predates the formation of the Solar System and may be interstellar in origin.
Both astronomer teams found the organic molecule around the young stars in their research, according to the Daily Mail.
Researchers followed up the detection of the molecule with computer models and laboratory experiments to better understand the molecule’s origin.
Niels Ligterink, a researcher involved in the project, said, “Besides detecting molecules we also want to understand how they are formed. Our laboratory experiments show that methyl isocyanate can indeed be produced on icy particles under very cold conditions that are similar to those in interstellar space.”
“This implies that this molecule, and thus the basis for peptide bonds, is indeed likely to be present near most new young solar-type stars.”
Still, despite the growing evidence that the materials necessary for the formation of organic molecules are widespread throughout the universe, there as yet exists no definitive proof that life other than what is extant (and extinct) on Earth has emerged in the universe. But discoveries like that of key prebiotic building blocks will continue to spur scientists to search for alien life, providing a reason to hope that, if there is such an abundance of material in the cosmos that is conducive to the emergence of life, there just may be aliens out there — somewhere.
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