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Astronomers Reveal Interstellar Thread of One of Life’s Building Blocks

25 Jan 2020, 22:08 UTC
Astronomers Reveal Interstellar Thread of One of Life’s Building Blocks
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Phosphorus, present in our DNA and cell membranes, is an essential element for life as we know it. But how it arrived on the early Earth is something of a mystery. Astronomers have now traced the journey of phosphorus from star-forming regions to comets using the combined powers of ALMA and the European Space Agency’s probe Rosetta. Their research shows, for the first time, where molecules containing phosphorus form, how this element is carried in comets, and how a particular molecule may have played a crucial role in starting life on our planet."Life appeared on Earth about 4 billion years ago, but we still do not know the processes that made it possible," says Víctor Rivilla, the lead author of a new study published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The new results from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, and from the ROSINA instrument on board Rosetta, show that phosphorus monoxide is a key piece in the origin-of-life puzzle.With the power of ALMA, which allowed a detailed look into the star-forming region AFGL 5142, astronomers could pinpoint where phosphorus-bearing molecules, like phosphorus monoxide, form. ...

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