Methanol – Now. Powered by Northrop Grumman


The essential ingredients of life as we know them include water and carbon. These two substances produce DNA, RNA, proteins, fats and sugars, which are part of all living things. While searching for the possibility of life beyond our planet, scientists have found water elsewhere in our solar system and in other solar systems. The search for carbon has been more difficult, but recent advances in radio telescopes have allowed us to analyze the cloudy disks swirling around young stars to identify molecules present during the birth of new planets.

Key molecules of life

In 2021, the complex carbon molecule methanol was discovered in a developing solar system 320 light years away, as Nature astronomy reports. This disk forming a planet around the star HD10056 was analyzed by an international team led by Alice Booth from the University of Leiden (the Netherlands) using the ALMA observatory in Chile. Methanol (chemical formula CH3OH) – also known as wood alcohol – is considered a key molecule for life because it can be used to form more complex organic molecules.

In space, the only effective way to make methanol is for the hydrogen (H) atoms to bind to carbon monoxide (CO) on cosmic dust at temperatures below 20 Kelvin (-423.67 degrees Fahrenheit ). Complex carbon molecules have been detected in young solar systems with cooler stars, such as Explain.

According to Leiden University, the recent discovery around the star HD10056 is particularly exciting because it was detected in a part of the disk forming the planet which is “hot” at 30 Kelvin (-405.67 Fahrenheit). Methanol cannot be formed at this temperature, so the large amount detected must be the remainder of a previous cold phase. One possibility is that the methanol formed in a cold interstellar cloud containing only dust, gas, and ice, and then survived the heat of that cloud collapsing into a disk forming a planet with a new star in it. its center.

The abundant methanol detected around the young star HD10056 can be incorporated into planets, moons, asteroids and comets as they form. The available evidence indicates that two giant planets are already present in this solar system. Additionally, when complex molecules are exposed to ultraviolet radiation from a scorching sun, chemical bonds break down and sometimes form more stable and complex compounds. Therefore, many newly formed planets can begin with the essential ingredients of life.

Our solar system

Scientists are still struggling to understand how the Earth acquired the key ingredients of life. As the London Natural History Museum described, our current understanding is that about 4.6 billion years ago, 99.9% of the matter in a swirling cloud of gas, dust, and ice merged to form our sun. The remaining debris revolved around the sun in the form of a flat disc and cooled to form a solid material. In high temperatures near the sun, minerals and metals are formed. Further on, less volatile solids such as ice and ammonia formed. The tiny dust-like particles collided with each other, sticking together to form larger particles. They eventually formed planets which swept the remaining dust and gas into their orbits.

Near the scorching sun, the rocky debris gave birth to the four terrestrial planets with metallic cores: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Further from the sun, the gas and ice giants formed Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The remaining debris became asteroids (made up mostly of metal and rock) and comets (made up mostly of ice, dust and rock). Today, many asteroids reside in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and many comets reside in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune.

Special delivery

In the early days of the solar system, new planets were constantly bombarded with asteroids and comets. As Smithsonian magazine actions, these impacts are believed to have delivered carbon molecules and water from the outer solar system to Earth. These would become the building blocks of life on Earth.

With hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, and perhaps 100 billion stars per galaxy, it seems inevitable that there will be life elsewhere in the universe. However, while living conditions were once believed to be the result of a series of almost impossible events, new observations suggest that these conditions may be quite common. Extraordinary new technologies allow us to scan distant galaxies at all stages of development. So the answer to the question of whether there is life on other planets – and where that life might be – may soon come.

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