Antonio Manaytay – Fourth Estate Contributor
College Park, MD, United States (4E) – Organic molecules required for life to exist on Earth could have originated from space, a new study suggests.
It was thought that life on Earth evolved after small organic terrestrial molecules had combined into larger molecules like protein and carbohydrates. A recent study, however, showed that it is likely that the molecules could have come from space.
In a study published in the Journal of Chemical Physics, the investigators had shown that small organic molecules can also be formed in an environment similar to space – cold and full of radiation.
The researchers at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada had shown it was likely after they simulated the environment is space where methane and oxygen contained in thin films of ice were irradiated with electron beams.
When irradiated under vacuum conditions imitating outer space environment, the investigators had found out, chemical reactions occurred in the molecular ice forming new molecules.
The use of the ice films that contained methane and oxygen also mimicked various types of ice formed around dust grains in the dense and cold molecular clouds in the interstellar medium.
This kind of icy environment can also be found in comets, asteroids, and moons in the solar system where they are vulnerable to different forms of radiation. In some instances, the magnetic fields accelerated the charged particles in the solar wind when these icy surfaces were irradiated with secondary electrons, also known as low-energy electrons.
The researchers had discovered that different kinds of small organic molecules were produced in icy films when they are subjected to low-energy electrons. Similar results had been observed when X-rays radiated the icy thin sheets although at a different rate.
It is likely, the investigators noted, that the building blocks of life could have been the product of chemical reactions produced when methane- and oxygen-containing icy sheets are irradiated with any form of ionizing radiation.
The findings could have a significant impact where and when to look for signs of life in other worlds.
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