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Starlight Key Ingredient In ‘Building Blocks Of Life’, Study Suggests

First Posted: Oct 14, 2016 04:42 AM EDT

Ultraviolet light from stars, or starlight, may be a key component in transforming interstellar gases into complex molecules, a recent study has suggested using data from European Space Agency's (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory. Infrared observations of the Orion Nebula reportedly show that starlight is the cause that propels the formation of what become precursor chemicals, which ultimately creates the building blocks of life.

The researchers observed the ingredients of carbon chemistry of the nearest star forming region to our planet that forms enormous stars, namely the Orion Nebula. The scientists studied the temperature, motions and amount of the carbon-hydrogen molecule (CH/methylidyne), the carbon-hydrogen positive ion (CH+) and their parent, the carbon ion (C+), as per NASA. "On Earth, the sun is the driving source of almost all the life on Earth," said Patrick Morris, study author. "Now, we have learned that starlight drives the formation of chemicals that are precursors to chemicals that we need to make life."

It has been long known by scientists that the Orion Nebula comprises of a lot of hydrogen gas, and when ultraviolet lights from huge stars heat up the hydrogen molecules around, it forms prime conditions for creating hydrocarbons. Once the interstellar gas gets warmer, carbon ions which had initially formed in stars start reacting with the molecular hydrogen, leading to the formation of CH+. Ultimately, the CH+ captures an electron to create the neutral CH molecule.

The researching team combined the data based on Herschel's observations with models of molecular formation and saw that ultraviolet light, or starlight, best explains how hydrocarbons are created in the Orion Nebula. The discovery has implications for the creation of basic hydrocarbons in other galaxies too, as per the study. "It is still a mystery how certain molecules get excited in the cores of galaxies," said John Pearson, co-author of the study. "Our study is a clue that ultraviolet light from massive stars could be driving the excitation of molecules there, too."

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