Space Research

Scientists closer to discovering how building blocks of life are formed in space

The question ‘How life in the universe began?’ is still a big mystery. While scientists are trying their level best to come up with best possible answers to the question, they still have a long way to go. A team of scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has reportedly gotten a step closer to understanding the creation of complex hydrocarbons in space.

They have carried out a series of experiments to find out how complex hydrocarbons are formed in space. Notably, complex hydrocarbons are an important class of molecules which are needed to create the building blocks for life.

The latest study helps the scientists explain the presence of pyrene in some meteorites. Pyrene is a chemical compound known as a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). Its presence has been detected in meteorites floating around the solar system. It is speculated that around one-fifth of the Milky Way’s carbon is made up by PAHs. They are organic molecules that are composed of a sequence of fused molecular rings.

In order to find out how these rings develop in space, the researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of California, Berkeley and Florida International University, explored the chemical reactions stemming from a combination of a complex hydrocarbon known as the 4-phenanthrenyl radical with acetylene.

The team injected the gas mixture into a microreactor that heated the sample to a high temperature to simulate similar conditions to those found around a star. The mixture was then made to pass through a tiny nozzle at supersonic speeds, holding the active chemistry within the heated cell. The next step was to focus a beam of vacuum ultraviolet light on the heated gas mixture that eliminated the electrons through ionization.

The scientists then managed to track down the formation timing of various particles including the production of pyrene.

“This is how we believe some of the first carbon-based structures evolved in the universe,” said Musahid Ahmed, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division.

“Starting off from simple gases, you can generate one-dimensional and two-dimensional structures, and pyrene could lead you to 2-D graphene,” Ahmed added. “From there you can get to graphite, and the evolution of more complex chemistry begins.”

About the author

Megha Kedia

Megha Kedia

Megha is a seasoned reporter with over six years of experience covering news in technology, science and related fields. At The Space News, Megha covers space research & technology news.

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