Scientists Spot 'Precursor to Life' in Deep Space

Milky Way chemical could help seed planetary life

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 14, 2013 7:15 PM CST

(Newser) – Astronomers have spotted hints of a precursor to chemical to life about 1,000 light-years away, LiveScience reports. Detected in a star-forming region of the Milky Way, the chemical—called hydroxylamine—is theoretically able to mix with other compounds, form amino acids, and seed other planets with life. "It's very exciting," says a NASA astrochemist. If verified, "this will be the first detection of this new molecule. It gives us a lot of hope for prebiotic chemistry in this particular region."

Researchers found it while scanning an interstellar region where a powerful gas jet is ramming into clouds filled with plasma, dust, and gas. In theory, that could overcome the frostiness of space and spark chemical reactions that create hydroxylamine. Some scientists say the components of life developed in such interstellar clouds, and hitched rides on space rocks that seeded Earth about 3.6 billion years ago. (Astronomers have also found the "biggest thing in the universe.")

A star-forming region in deep space.
A star-forming region in deep space.   (NASA/JPL)
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