Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Indicator of extraterrestrial life?

05.10.2017

First-time discovery of chemical compound Freon-40 in space

Using data captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) ALMA in Chile and the ROSINA instrument on ESA's Rosetta mission, an international team of astronomers including scientists from Harvard University, the University of Cologne, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and others, has found faint traces of the chemical compound Freon-40 (CH3Cl), an organohalogen, around both an infant star and a comet in our solar system.


The presence of the organohalogen chloromethane (black, carbon; white, hydrogen; green, chlorine) has been detected in the gas around protostar IRAS 16293-2422 (top image) and comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (bottom image).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team (top image); European Space Agency/Rosetta/Navcam/Science Photo Library (bottom image)

This is the first detection ever of a saturated organohalogen in interstellar space. This result has now been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Freon-40 is formed by organic processes on Earth, so it has been considered as a marker of extraterrestrial life. But since this is the first ever detection of a saturated organohalogen in interstellar space, it may not be as good marker of life as had been hoped.

This discovery of Freon-40 in places that must predate the origin of life can thus be seen as a disappointment. However, organohalogens may be significant components of the material from which planets form. This result underscores the challenge of finding molecules that could indicate the presence of life beyond Earth.

Exoplanet research has gone beyond the point of finding planets - more than 3,000 exoplanets are now known - to looking for chemical markers that might indicate the potential presence of life. A vital step is determining which molecules could indicate life, but establishing reliable markers remains a tricky process.

Freon-40 is also known as methyl chloride and chloromethane, and was detected around both the infant star system IRAS 16293-2422 [1], about 400 light-years away, and the famous comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G). Organohalogens consist of halogens such as chlorine and fluorine, bonded with carbon and sometimes other elements.

On Earth, methyl chloride is created by biological processes - in organisms ranging from humans to fungi - as well as by industrial processes such as the production of dyes and medical drugs. 'Finding Freon-40 near these young, Sun-like stars was surprising', said Edith Fayolle, a researcher with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author of the new paper.

'We did not predict its formation and were surprised to find it in such significant concentrations. It has now become clear that these molecules form readily in stellar nurseries, providing insights into the chemical evolution of planetary systems.'

The discovery of organohalogens in the interstellar medium also tells the researchers something about the starting conditions for organic chemistry on planets. Such chemistry is an important step toward the origins of life. Organohalogens, the findings suggest, are likely to be a constituent of the so-called 'primordial soup' - both on the young Earth and on nascent rocky exoplanets.

Thus, rather than indicating the presence of existing life, organohalogens may be an important element in the little-understood chemistry involved in the origin of life. Co-author Jes Joergensen from the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen adds:

'This result shows the power of ALMA to detect molecules of astrobiological interest toward young stars on scales where planets may be forming. Using ALMA, we have previously found precursors to sugars and amino acids around different stars. The additional discovery of Freon-40 around Comet 67P/C-G strengthens the links between the pre-biological chemistry of distant protostars and our own Solar System.' Holger Mueller, a spectroscopist at the University of Cologne's Institute of Physics I and a co-author of the study, says: 'The identification of molecules in space usually relies on laboratory studies of these molecules.'

He maintains the Cologne Database for Molecular Spectroscopy, CDMS, an important repository of data to identify interstellar molecules. He helped to identify the compound's spectral fingerprints, and thus to verify their occurrences in outer space.

###

Original publication:

Protostellar and Cometary Detections of Organohalogens

Edith C. Fayolle, Karin I. Oeberg, Jes K. Joergensen, Kathrin Altwegg, Hannah Calcutt, Holger S. P. Mueller, Martin Rubin, Matthijs H. D. van der Wiel, Per Bjerkeli, Tyler L. Bourke, Audrey Coutens, Ewine F. van Dishoeck, Maria N. Drozdovskaya, Robin T. Garrod, Niels F. W. Ligterink, Magnus V. Persson, Susanne F. Wampfler, and the ROSINA team Nature Astronomy 1, 703-708 (2017)

http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1038/s41550-017-0237-7

Further information:

The Cologne Database for Molecular Spectroscopy http://www.astro.uni-koeln.de/cdms/

The Cologne Laboratory Astrophysics Group http://www.astro.uni-koeln.de/labastro

The PILS project web-site http://youngstars.nbi.dk/PILS/index.html

Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) http://www.almaobservatory.org/

Media Contact

Dr. Holger Mueller
hspm@ph1.uni-koeln.de
49-221-470-4528

 @UniCologne

http://www.uni-koeln.de 

Dr. Holger Mueller | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: ALMA Atacama Database Earth astronomy astrophysics chloride interstellar interstellar space methyl

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

nachricht Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino
16.07.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts

18.07.2018 | Life Sciences

Machine-learning predicted a superhard and high-energy-density tungsten nitride

18.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

Why might reading make myopic?

18.07.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>