The molecule known as H3+ is believed to have had a vital role in cooling down the first stars of the universe, and may still play an important part in the formation of current stars. Above, new stars burst into being in the star-forming nebula Messier 78, imaged by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Have Astronomers Found Chemical Precursor to Life In Gas Clouds?

by Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 11 January 2013 Time: 08:10 PM ET

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Astronomers have found tentative traces of a precursor chemical to the building blocks of life near a star-forming region about 1,000 light-years from Earth.

The signal from the molecule, hydroxylamine, which is made up of atoms of nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, still needs to be verified. But, if confirmed, it would mean scientists had found a chemical that could potentially seed life on other worlds, and may have played a role in life’s origin on our home planet 3.7 billion years ago.

The findings were presented Jan. 9 at the 22nd annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society .

“It’s very exciting,” said Stefanie Milam, an astrochemist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who was not involved in the study. If the findings can be verified, “this will be the first detection of this new molecule. It gives us a lot of hope for prebiotic chemistry in this particular region.”

Read more: Chemical Precursor to Life Tentatively Found | Panspermia | Space.

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