Scientists may have proven that the building blocks for life can be created in conditions similar to the vacuum of space. These findings could mean that life as we know it on Earth may have started in the far reaches of space.
A new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Sherbrooke in Canada, simulated the conditions of space in a lab and created chemical reactions capable of producing organic molecules.
The study was published in the Journal of Chemical Physics.
The researchers simulated a space environment in a lab and methane and oxygen inside thin films of ice were placed in a vacuum.
The ice films used in the lab were similar to materials found around comets, asteroids, and molecular clouds in interstellar space.
In space, these materials would be bombarded with radiation, and so in the lab, the researchers exposed the ice to low-energy electrons as a substitute for the different forms of radiation found in interstellar space.
“All of these icy surfaces in space are subjected to multiple forms of radiation,” the researchers explained. “’Previous studies investigated chemical reactions that might occur in space environments through the use of ultraviolet or other types of radiation, but this is a first detailed look at the role of secondary electrons.”
After exposure to the electrons, organic molecules began to form within the vacuum. The researchers observed the production of propylene, ethane, and acetylene in the frozen methane.
The results show that ethanol and acetic acid could form under the right conditions in space, possibly proving that the organic molecules necessary for life can come from molecular ice in the solar system exposed to radiation.