Ingredients for life discovered in Perseus molecular cloud in space 1,000 light-years from Earth

The Perseus Molecular Cloud, a juvenile collection of stars and gas in outer space, is where the prebiotic compounds were discovered.

Astronomers have discovered chemicals that are thought to be the fundamental building blocks for life in a "soup" of molecules in a far-off star-forming nebula.

These compounds can help create amino acids, which are the building blocks of genetic material and are thought to have been crucial for the emergence of the first Earth-dwelling microbes.

The Perseus Molecular Cloud's IC348 star cluster is where the primordial compounds were discovered. The cluster's stars are thought to be very youthful, only 2 to 3 million years old. Our "middle-aged" solar is roughly 4.6 billion years old as a point of reference.

According to Susan Iglesias-Groth, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofsica de Canarias (IAC) and co-author of the study, "[the cloud] is an extraordinary laboratory of organic chemistry."(opens in new tab). These intricate pure carbon molecules frequently serve as the building elements for the essential molecules of life.

One of the nearest active star-forming areas to our solar system is the 500 light-year wide Perseus Cloud, which is only 1,000 light-years distant.

Within the cloud, star clusters contain many young stars that are encircled by rings of gas and dust. The typical building elements of planetary systems, such as planets, moons, asteroids, and comets, emerge in a process akin to the one that once gave rise to our solar system within these "protoplanetary disks" of dense clusters of material.

The discovery of prebiotic molecules at such a location and so near the star cluster IC348 may suggest that juvenile planets accrete material that includes molecules that ultimately aid in the creation of complicated organic molecules.

The co-author of the study and researcher Martina Marin-Dobrincic said that "these key molecules could have been supplied to the nascent planets in the protoplanetary disks and could in this way help to produce there a route towards the molecules of life."

Iglesias-Groth and the team also uncovered several carbon-based compounds as well as molecular hydrogen (H2), hydroxyl (OH), water (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and ammonia (NH3) in the same cloud that fullerenes were discovered in in 2019. The formation of more complicated hydrocarbons and primordial molecules like hydrogen cyanide (HCN), ethane (C2H6), hexatrine (C6H2), and benzene may be aided by these latter molecules. (C6H6).

Additionally, the group discovered additional fullerenes in the shape of carbon-60 (C60) and carbon-70, as well as more complicated compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). (C70).

According to Iglesias-Gorth, "IC 348 appears to have a very rich and diverse molecular content." We are seeing molecules in the diffuse atmosphere where stars and protoplanetary disks are developing, which is new.

Iglesias-Groth and Marin-Dobrincic made their finding using information gathered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which is now retired. They plan to continue their studies using the more potent James Webb Space Telescope. (JWST).

It was noted by Iglesias-Groth that the JWST's spectroscopic capabilities could "provide details about the spatial distribution of all these molecules, and extend the present search to others which are more complex, giving higher sensitivity and resolution which are essential to confirm the very probable presence of amino acids in the gas in this and in other star-forming regions."