Panspermia – the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by space dust, meteoroids, asteroids, comets, planetoids, and also by spacecraft carrying unintended contamination by microorganisms – is nothing new. It’s a theory that has been around for decades.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa is investigating the theory, and trying to get to the heart of elements involved. In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers suggest that phosphate could have been delivered to Earth in its first billion years by meteorites or comets.
The team used the process of infrared spectroscopy to analyze. In this process the team uses an ultra-high vacuum chamber to cool simulated interstellar grains down to -270°C (-450°F). They coat those grains in carbon dioxide and water, and phosphine.
Within the chamber, they expose these grains to radiation which simulates cosmic rays in space. The result is the production of phosphoric acid which is a key ingredient in life here on Earth.
“On Earth, phosphine is lethal to living beings. But in the interstellar medium, an exotic phosphine chemistry can promote rare chemical reaction pathways to initiate the formation of biorelevant molecules such as oxoacids of phosphorus, which eventually might spark the molecular evolution of life as we know it.” says lead author Andrew Turner.
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