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A huge cloud of gas in our Milky Way galaxy filled with the ingredients for the building blocks of life

A huge cloud of gas in our Milky Way galaxy filled with the ingredients for the building blocks of life

At the center of our Milky Way galaxy, the building blocks of RNA are abundant. Are these nitriles responsible for life on Earth (and elsewhere)?

An international group of scientists has pointed its astronomical arrows at a huge cloud of gas at the center of our Milky Way. Organic molecules were found in this cloud, which may have stood at the cradle of the first single-celled life on Earth.

The giant gas cloud was observed by Spanish telescopes and appears to consist of many nitriles. These substances can be highly toxic, due to the release of cyanide, but they are also the building blocks of ribonucleic acid (RNA), the precursor to DNA.

The discovery is very important, as it can teach us more about the origin of the first life forms on Earth. But it also makes you think about the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

RNA World Hypothesis
“We have shown that there is a place in the center of our galaxy where the building blocks of life are abundant. Indirect evidence of the ‘RNA world scenario’,” says astrobiologist Victor Rivilla of the Spanish National Research Office and the National Institute for Space Technology in Madrid.

The RNA scientist hypothesis is based on the idea that life on Earth began with RNA. Only then do DNA, proteins and enzymes develop. RNA can store and copy information (like DNA), as well as speed up reactions (like enzymes).

meteor shower
Nitriles are precursors of RNA. It is possible that nitriles did not originate on Earth, but were destroyed on our planet billions of years ago by the collision of meteorites and comets.

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This could have happened about 4 billion years ago during the “Late Heavy Bombardment”. Nitriles and other molecular building blocks for RNA, lipids and amino acids are frequently found in comets and meteorites.

What is Late Heavy Bombardment?
From 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago, I found late heavy bombardment (LGB) place. During that period, the innermost part of our solar system, that is, the Earth and the Moon, as well as Venus, Mercury and Mars suffered from the impacts of meteorites much more than other times. It is not clear what caused this “bombing” of meteorites. It is possible that Jupiter’s orbit has waned, which could change the orbits of many asteroids, causing them to rush into the inner planets. It could also be that a large collision in the solar system produced a lot of flying debris.

The gas cloud studied is full of organic molecular compounds, has a mass a thousand times that of our sun and is at least three light-years wide. The temperature is around -170 degrees Celsius and there are no stars, although astronomers believe they could form in the future. The chemical composition of the gas cloud is similar to other regions of our galaxy, which also form stars and comets. This means that we can learn a lot about our solar system by studying this gas cloud,” explains Rivella.

Rivilla and his team used the 30-meter-wide IRAM telescope in Granada and the 40-meter Yebes telescope in Guadalajara to capture electromagnetic signals from the gas cloud. Spanish dishes have received a wealth of information.

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They found evidence of different types of nitriles. In fact, it’s full of potential building blocks for RNA. They are detected in the center of our Milky Way galaxy, in comets and meteorites, and even in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

“We have now found many simple precursors of nucleotides, the building blocks of RNA. But we are still missing a lot of important molecules. For example, we still don’t know how lipids (lipids) originated on Earth,” explains co-author and researcher Izaskun Jiménex-Serra. that without lipids, there might not have been single-celled protozoans either.” We continue to search for information about the first building blocks of life. How did the first fat molecules originate and where did they come from? “

There are still many questions, but another interesting step has been taken in the eternal human search for life outside our planet.