Astronomers have found ingredients of life around a distant star

IRAS 16293–2422 is a multiple system of very young stars which is about 400 light-years away. New results from ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) show that methyl isocyanate gas surrounds each of these young stars. Methyl isocyanate is a prebiotic molecule — a potential building block of life. It has a structure that is chemically similar to a peptide bond, which is what holds amino acids together in proteins. The finding suggests that quite complex organic molecules may be created very early in the evolution of star systems.

“This star system seems to keep on giving! Following the discovery of sugars, we’ve now found methyl isocyanate. This family of organic molecules is involved in the synthesis of peptides and amino acids, which, in the form of proteins, are the biological basis for life as we know it,” explain Niels Ligterink and Audrey Coutens

Earth and the other planets in our Solar System formed from the material left over after the formation of the Sun. Studying solar-type protostars can therefore open a window to the past for astronomers and allow them to observe conditions similar to those that led to the formation of our Solar System over 4.5 billion years ago.

Reference: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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