Researchers from Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Harvard) have studied the million-year old MWC 480 star and discovered that it has complex organic molecules.
It is the first time when astronomers have found what seems to be living matter in another star system. The complex organic molecules were identified in a disk of dust and gas around the star at the distance of 455 light years away. This discovery makes the finding of alien organisms seem possible since the conditions which enabled life on earth seem to exist not only in our solar system.
ALMA telescope (the Atacama Large Millimeter Array) was used to examine the composition of the gas disk around MWC 480. According to the analysis the disk contains the complex carbon-based molecule called methyl cyanide and another similar molecule, hydrogen cyanide. This indicates that the disk resembles Kuiper Belt, an area filled with icy comets and celestial objects.
The presence of those specific molecules is essential. They are the main building blocks of protein which produce amino acids, a compound found in living organisms. Cyanides have previously been found in interstellar clouds, but not in such large quantities.
Karin Oberg, the leader of the research team, explained that the molecules which were found are the molecules needed for sustaining life but that does not necessarily mean that they originate life. Cyanides enable the occurrence of chemical reactions but unfortunately they are not good for present-life. So it is a sort of a paradox according to her.
Oberg also explained that the study of asteroids and comets proves that the solar nebula which spawned the Sun in our galaxy had plenty of complex organic compounds and water. The new findings show that the same chemistry exists in other regions of the universe and it can form solar systems.
MWC 480 has twice the mass of the sun and the disk which surrounds it is in its very early stages of development so astronomers still have to work on identifying any signs of planet formation.
The team of researchers is now planning to study other protoplanetary disks around stars in order to determine whether they can identify similar chemistry in other areas of the universe.
‘Now we know we’re not unique in organic chemistry. Once more, we have learned that we’re not special. From a life in the universe point of view, this is great news.’
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