"Life's Chemistry Set" Found in Remote Reaches of Universe


"Life's Chemistry Set" Found in Remote Reaches of Universe

While some have been scanning our nearest neighbors for signs of life, excited by the existence of ice and methane plumes on Mars, others have been looking farther afield. Much farther afield. Twenty-five thousand light years afield, in fact, which is a bit more afield than the human brain can actually picture without popping, and in the far flung locale of HMC G31.41+0.31 one of the basic components of life has been found.

Such long-range searches are very different to our close range surveys. You can't quite make out structures in another quadrant of the galaxy (even inferring the existence of a planet is considered a major success), but for all that we still depend on the "look at the incoming light" tactic the ancients used to detect Venus and Jupiter. But we're no longer limited to the visual spectrum, and can see more than just "Big spots that reflect light."

A lot more. The advances of quantum mechanics allow us to identify materials clear across the Milky Way just from the light we receive - every chemical in creation has a unique light signature, caused by photons jumping between the different electron energy levels in its atoms. In this case, a European team of scientists have identified the simple sugar glycolaldehyde from its infra-red emissions.

Glycolaldehyde (CH2OHCHO) might not sound terribly vital to you, but it's kind of important. Put together with propenal it can make ribose, which is used to make ribonucleic acid, which is used to make deoxyribonucleic acid, which is used to make you. It's one of the fundamental chemical building blocks that's more biological than mineral and its existence spread through space is a big deal. It's been observed as far back as 2000 in hot galactic core regions, but this is the first observation in a location where life as we know it could conceivable occur.

Recent results indicating that there are far more planets out there than we previously suspected, and combined with these suggestions that the "life chemistry set" is pretty widespread this raises the chances of extraterrestrial life. Because no matter what the odds of a successful combination of components, there is a far larger number of planets shaking the chemical cocktail shaker for a "Life Special With Extra Carbon."