Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Are the seeds of life found in interstellar space?

This article from Science magazine talks about a new finding from observations made of an interstellar region where new stars form. Apparently, one of the basic chemical building blocks of RNA has been detected in fairly significant quantities in the star-forming region G31.41+0.31 of the Milky Way (about 26,000 light years away).

Astronomers have detected a building block of RNA floating within the hot,
compact core of a massive star-forming region in the Milky Way. The molecule
appears to have formed with all of the other stuff that makes up planets,
suggesting that many other worlds are seeded with some of life's ingredients
right from birth.

This adds to the already impressive array of data and evidence that the conditions and precursors necessary for life to begin are not only available in the universe, but appear to be rather common. Not only have we discovered extrasolar planets (over 300 have been identified in just the last decade) orbiting stars trillions of miles away, but even in our own solar-system backyard, we've discovered several places with water oceans, which most biologists and chemists agree are necessary for the formation of earthlike life.

We're getting closer and closer to finding "aliens" out there. Of course, based on the track record here on earth, technologically sophisticated intelligent life is a long shot (we've only gotten that to happen once in four and a half billion years).

This is an amazing and exciting time to be a scientist -- it's findings like these that not only answer older questions, but provide the fodder and grist for new and even more interesting and fascinating ones, too.

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