Astrobiologists have found an organic molecule in deep space that has the same components as molecules on Earth, which are essential for life. Researchers have been investigating this molecule in our home planet for decades, without the ability to understand them.

Researchers classify these molecules as left and right handed, meaning that despite having the same internal components they are not physically the same, just like a pair of hands or gloves. These molecules have been found in meteorites that landed on Earth and comets in the solar system.

Human DNA, amino acids, and different earth-based structures have something in common, chiral molecules. These life-essential molecules, have the same chemical components and are defined as mirror images. Credit: Business Insider

A recent investigation held by U.S researchers has found these molecules in interstellar space, a discovery that had never been made before and that could lead investigations to solve one of the life’s biggest mystery and understand the beginnings of human life on Earth.

A life essential molecule

These molecules, known as propylene oxide, are critical to the creation of life and depend substantially on these right and left properties, also known as chirality, to be created and to function as we know it.

All of Earth’s life forms have chosen a right or a left property, for example, the sugar ribose which is the backbone of the DNA is formed with right-handed molecules, and all of the amino acids that are the key components of the properties in the human body are left-handed.

Researchers have always wondered what made life choose these bias and what is the actual meaning of it. By understanding these facts, further investigations could lead to discovering the origins of life on Earth as we know it.

Thanks to lights emitted by molecules in the center of outer space, researcher have been guided the Green Bank Telescope Prebiotic Interstellar Molecular Survey to find propylene oxide (CH3CHCH2) in a star-forming gas cloud called Sagittarius B2.

“By discovering a chiral molecule in space, we finally have a way to study where and how these molecules form before they find their way into meteorites and comets, and to understand the role they play in the origins of homochirality and life,” said Dr. Brett McGuire from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia.

The discovery has opened the eyes of researchers, hoping to find answers to this long-lasting life mystery.

Sagittarius B2, the massive cloud of gas and dust, has been observed by researchers and the Green Bank Telescope for years and it’s considered the largest in the galaxy. Sgr B2 is located around 150 light years from earth.

This is the first time researchers can find a molecule with the chirality ability in outer space. Researchers are theorizing that the first origins of the bias were produced in interstellar space, a long time before Earth was created. Which lead these process onto Earth.

Researchers are now trying to understand if the propylene oxide found in interstellar space is left-handed or right-handed since this could orientate them, into solving the beginnings of Earth molecules and the bias.

“We can use this molecule as a kind of tracer to look back in time to how this selection might have happened,” said Dr. McGuire to the Washington Post.

Further investigations on the molecules

Researchers were able to determine the presence of these particles in space by observing through the telescope and by radio observations. Since every molecule has an original frequency that either reflects or absorbs light.

By using a radio telescope, researchers were able to observe the source of the light behind the molecule and determines the molecule thanks to the wavelengths of its light. These advances were made after investigations on Earth particles, so that made it easier to identify the propylene oxide.

Studies are currently focused on discovering the handedness of the molecule found in space by determining if there is an excess of the propylene oxide when compared with the other. To determine this, researchers will examine exactly how polarized light functions with the molecules.

“You really only have to understand one chiral molecule to understand them all,” said Brandon Carroll chemistry graduate and co-first author of the study.

This discovery has guided researchers into exploring and discovering new particles in interstellar space; that could lead the humankind closer to its origin and understanding secrets of life and our place in space.

Researchers will also be focused on finding this type of particles in nearby planets and meteorites, that could mean the beginning or the formation of similar earth life, outside of earth.

Source: The Washington Post