A recent study published in Nature on the 9th April suggests ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array) has found complex organic molecules, the origins of life on earth, in a protoplanetary disc surrounding a star in its infant stages.
ALMA, or the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array is a state of the art telescope located high in the Chilean Andes and operated by the European Southern Laboratory, ESO. It is used to study light wavelengths coming from distant galaxies at freezing temperatures, and thus analyse the molecular composition of molecular clouds.
It has given scientists the insight to study the chemical and physical compositions of these clouds and to look at some of the earliest formations accessible to us. Such as the protoplanetary disk surrounding the star MWC 480.
MWC 480 and its disk
Located in the Taurus star forming region this million-year old star is twice the mass of our sun and about 455 light years away!
This was recently a nebula of gas and dust before forming into MWC 480 and therefore it’s protoplanetary disk is still in the early stages of development, so early it is still uncertain as to whether there is a planet formation within it or not.
The results of ALMA’s data collection showed the presence of complex organic carbon based molecules. The disk was full of methyl cyanide (CH3CN) and lesser but still prevalent amounts of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) were also found.
The Importance of Carbon-Based Molecules
You may be wondering why this is such a big deal. It is because all life on earth evolved from complex organic molecules, and we wouldn’t be here today without them.
It is speculated that the first complex organic molecules on earth actually got here via comet travel which have been assumed to carry an almost perfect record of the early chemistry of the solar system. And seeing as the chemicals found are the literal building blocks of life it has givenrise to many other theories.
What does this Mean?
This research helps confirm that we may not have existed if it weren’t for an organic molecule-rich meteor landing in the perfect conditions for the compounds to flourish. It also shows that these molecules flourish in the beginnings of a solar system formation, so they could have been on earth since formation and waited for the perfect conditions.
While we are still not sure about some things, it is certain that carbon-based complex molecules are the origins of life and if the same ones found in our solar system exist 455 light years away, what else could be there that’s similar?