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Extraterrestrial Life? Organic Evidence Beyond Our Solar System

Artist rendition of a protoplanetary system. Wikimedia Commons
Artist rendition of a protoplanetary system. Wikimedia Commons
Berlin, Apr 9 (EFE).- A team of scientists has found, for the first time, complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, in a protoplanetary disc surrounding a young star, reinforcing the theory of life beyond the Solar System.
In an article published Thursday in the journal Nature, the team said it detected “large amounts of methyl cyanide (CH3CN)” in “the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young star MWC 480.”
The discovery is key, according to the experts participating in the research project, since that molecule contains links between carbon and nitrogen atoms.
These chemical links “are essential” to the formation of amino acids which, in turn, are basic components of proteins and therefore “are essential for building life.”
Both the methyl cyanide molecule and its simpler cousin, hydrogen cyanide (HCN), were found “in the cold outer reaches of the star’s newly formed disc around MWC 480, a star 10 times bigger than the Sun and about 455 light years from Earth in the Tauro star-spawning formation.
The discovery, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, or ALMA, in northern Chile, “reaffirms that the conditions that spawned the Earth and Sun are not unique in the Universe,” the European Southern Observatory, or ESO, said in a statement.
“We now have even better evidence that this same chemistry exists elsewhere in the Universe, in regions that could form solar systems not unlike our own,” Karin Öberg, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author of the new paper, said.
Öberg noted that the molecules found in MWC 480 are also found in similar concentrations in the Solar System’s comets, which is intriguing since these objects “preserve, since the time when planets were forming, the original information of the early Solar System’s chemistry.”
If the chemical environment that spawned Earth and other planets made possible the appearance of life and these conditions are present in other parts of the universe, it is logical to think that there may be life beyond the Solar System, the study said.
“Once more,” Öberg said, “we have learned that we’re not special. From a life in the Universe point of view, this is great news.” EFE

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