Researchers from the University of Leeds have been studying the galaxy, looking for organic molecules necessary to form life as we know it. The lead researcher for the study was Dr. John Ilee. He says that the basic chemical conditions that resulted in life on our planet may be more widely distributed across the galaxy than previously believed. During the study, scientists discovered fingerprints in light emitted from material surrounding young stars indicating there are reservoirs of large organic molecules around those stars necessary to form life.
The team identified the organic molecules in protoplanetary discs surrounding the new stars. In the distant past, our solar system would’ve had a similar disc surrounding the young Sun. The presence of significant amounts of these large organic molecules is important as they are the foundation leading from simple carbon-based molecules like carbon monoxide to more complicated molecules required to create and sustain life as we know it.
The team of researchers on the study consists of astrophysicists from 16 different universities around the world. The study focused on the existence, location, and abundance of known precursor molecules required for life. Ilee said that the large complex organic molecules are available in various environments in space. Laboratory and theoretical studies suggest they are the ingredients required for building molecules essential to biological chemistry on our planet.
The molecules lead to the creation of sugars, amino acids, and RNA under the right conditions. Interestingly, the team of researchers found that many of the environments where large quantities of these molecules are found are not where scientists will expect planets to form. The study was an effort to understand where and how much of the molecules are present in protoplanetary discs.
The team specifically looked for three molecules, including cyanoacetylene (HC3N), acetonitrile (CH3CN), and cyclopropenylidene (c-C3H2). The study investigated five protoplanetary discs, including IM Lup, GM Aur, AS 209, HD 163296, and MWC 480, located between 300 and 500 light-years away.