link to Home Page

icon Primordial Soup

Astronomers find complex organic molecules in space
Associated Press, Jan. 13, 2000

A primordial soup of complex organic chemicals that could be the precursors of life is cooked up very quickly after the birth of stars, new research suggests. "Life could have had an easier time starting than we thought before," astronomer Sun Kwok said Wednesday at a national meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Kwok, of the University of Calgary, Canada, said a study by the Infrared Space Observatory showed that large organic molecules evolve within only a few thousand years from chemicals in the cloud-like envelope surrounding some stars. The conclusion is based on the infrared spectra readings of short-lived, carbon-rich stars that are engulfed in clouds of gas and dust. Kwok said the clouds are rich in some of the most advanced organic molecules ever detected in outer space. "There is no doubt now that such complex molecules exist and the stars are able to make them with no difficulty," said Kwok. Such chemicals would eventually be ejected into interstellar space, he said, which makes it possible that they could end up on planets such as Earth where, under the right conditions, life could have evolved. Among the chemicals detected was acetylene, a building block for benzene and other aromatic molecules that, in turn, can form complex hydrocarbons, the chemical stuff of life. Kwok said it is possible that amino acids could be manufactured around stars, but this molecule, essential to life, cannot be detected by the current generation of space telescopes.