Is life a highly improbable event, or is it rather the inevitable consequence of a rich chemical soup available everywhere in the cosmos? Scientists have recently found new evidence that amino acids, the `building-blocks` of life, can form not only in comets and asteroids, but also in the interstellar space. This result is consistent with (although of course does not prove) the theory that the main ingredients for life came from outer space, and therefore that chemical processes leading to life are likely to have occurred elsewhere. This reinforces the interest in an already `hot` research field, astrochemistry. ESA`s forthcoming missions Rosetta and Herschel will provide a wealth of new information for this topic.
Amino acids are the `bricks` of the proteins, and proteins are a type of compound present in all living organisms. Amino acids have been found in meteorites that have landed on Earth, but never in space. In meteorites amino acids are generally thought to have been produced soon after the formation of the Solar System, by the action of aqueous fluids on comets and asteroids - objects whose fragments became today`s meteorites. However, new results published recently in Nature by two independent groups show evidence that amino acids can also form in space.
Between stars there are huge clouds of gas and dust, the dust consisting of tiny grains typically smaller than a millionth of a millimetre. The teams reporting the new results, led by a United States group and a European group, reproduced the physical steps leading to the formation of these grains in the interstellar clouds in their laboratories, and found that amino acids formed spontaneously in the resulting artificial grains.
Monica Talevi | alphagalileo
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