Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Most Planets May Be Seeded With Life?

Astronomers have found a building block of RNA in a star forming region of the Milky Way. This may imply that when planets and solar systems form they may already be seeded with the building blocks of life.

From Science:
Astronomers have detected a building block of RNA floating within the hot, compact core of a massive star-forming region in the Milky Way. The molecule appears to have formed with all of the other stuff that makes up planets, suggesting that many other worlds are seeded with some of life's ingredients right from birth.

Using the IRAM radio dish array in France, a team of European astronomers has detected glycolaldehyde--a simple sugar that makes up ribose, one of the constituents of RNA--within the core of what appears to be a coalescing disk of dust and gas in a star-forming region called G31.41+0.31, about 26,000 light-years away.

The discovery is significant for two reasons. First, G31.41+0.31 lies far away from the radiation-filled center of the Milky Way, so if any biological processes start up there, they will have a chance to establish themselves. Second, the abundance of glycolaldehyde in the G31.41+0.31 cloud suggests that the molecule is "common throughout star-forming regions," says astrophysicist and co-author Serena Viti of University College London. The implication is that wherever there is starmaking and planet formation going on, organic building blocks could be assembling as well.

Maybe so, but radio astronomer Karl Menten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, says we're still a long way from observing life taking hold. In our own planet's case, for example, he says, "It is not clear to what extent complex interstellar molecules survived the violent forces accompanying Earth's initial formation."

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