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Space Science

Ingredients of Life Found Around Sun-Like Star 366

Posted by Zonk
from the i-knew-i'd-left-those-somewhere dept.
smooth wombat writes "NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope has detected the basic organic building blocks of life in a ring orbiting in the 'habitable zone', that area where Earth orbits the Sun and where water exists on the borderline between gas and liquid, in a nearby stellar nursery. When acetylene and hydrogen cyanide combine with water they form adenine, one of the four bases of DNA. The detection supports the widely held theory that many of the molecular building blocks of life were present in the solar system even before planets formed, thus assisting the initial formation of complex organic molecules and the start of life itself." Though it was a little shakier than this observation, we've discussed the possibility of life elsewhere in the galaxy before.
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Ingredients of Life Found Around Sun-Like Star

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  • What, you mean concrete evidence of an Intelligent Designer?

    Love,
    Kansas Board of Education
  • by setirw (854029) on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:26PM (#14326894) Homepage
    Definitive proof that the building blocks of life were purposefully placed here by a space alien :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:27PM (#14326898)
    Ingredients for bleu cheese found in my bathroom... but that doesn't mean it is bleu cheese or that I'd want to eat it even if it were.
    • Ingredients for bleu cheese found in my bathroom... but that doesn't mean it is bleu cheese or that I'd want to eat it even if it were.

      W1n!

      So far, you've made the only insightful observation on TFA in the entire thread.

      It was never in doubt that we would see other planets with acetylene, hydrogen cyanide, and liquid water, if we looked long enough. Finding an example of such a planet doesn't mean there's anybody there to add to our AIM buddy lists.
  • Dupe?! (Score:4, Funny)

    by lawpoop (604919) on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:27PM (#14326902) Homepage Journal
    "Though it was a little shakier than this observation, we've discussed the possibility of life elsewhere in the galaxy before."

    Oh, so you've bourght us another dupe, huh? Well, thanks, Slashdot mods, thanks! FOR NOTHING!
    • No, not at all. The other story was about the discovery of acetylene on Titan, a moon orbiting Saturn, which is, of course, in our own solar system. Thise new article is about the discovery of acetylene and hydrogen cyanide in a dust cloud orbiting a young star. If discovering the same chemical in two different places makes a dupe, then reporting on proccessor advancements, or updates on relevent lawsuits (like the lego's one) must be dupes too.
    • Technically given that there is an infinite amount of energy available (thus infitite possibility) then somewhere in the universe, sometime we have already discussed this, and will discuss this again. Except that in one of the last times we discussed this you were the opposite gender and I was a talking peguin with a linuxphobia.
  • We are all made of stars?
    • No, Rush had it right, back in 1990. We are made from the dust of stars, and the oceans flow in our veins.
    • Yes, like CSNY said --

      Woodstock - CSNY
      Well I came across a child of God, he was walking along the road
      and I asked him tell where are you going, this he told me:
      Well, I'm going down to Yasgur's farm, going to join in a rock and roll band.
      Got to get back to the land, set my soul free.
      We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
      and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
    • I think Carl Sagan preceded Moby in presenting that idea to popular culture. See Cosmos [wikipedia.org]. I just re-watched this series and it's just as good 25 years after it originally aired...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      We are all made of stars?

      The Big Bang produced very little but hydrogen and helium, with some lithium (Thielemann et al. 2001). Various other elements (heavier than carbon but lighter than iron) are produced by fusion in the red giant stage of stars (Table 3). ... most of the elements that make up the computer you're using to view this article, the world around you, the solar system and your body, were originally produced in a supernova (Cameron & Truran 1977; Harper 1996).

      In short, yes. [talkorigins.org]

      • We are all made of stars?

        The Big Bang produced very little but hydrogen and helium, with some lithium (Thielemann et al. 2001). Various other elements (heavier than carbon but lighter than iron) are produced by fusion in the red giant stage of stars (Table 3). ... most of the elements that make up the computer you're using to view this article, the world around you, the solar system and your body, were originally produced in a supernova (Cameron & Truran 1977; Harper 1996).


        S
        • Carbon dating measures the ratios of various carbon isotopes (C-12 and C-14 I believe), not the age of individual carbon atoms.
        • Carbon dating measures the ratio of C14 to C12. C14 is radioactive and decays over time. When an organism is alive it is constantly ingesting outside sources of carbon and so the C12-C14 ratio is the same as that of the environment. The environment gets C14 when cosmic rays interact with C12 in the upper atmosphere. When the organism dies, it stops ingesting carbon, the C14 decays and the ratio changes. The change in this ratio can tell you how long ago something stopped ingesting C14 (when it died).

          You are
        • Carbon Dating (Score:4, Informative)

          by qeveren (318805) on Friday December 23, 2005 @01:50PM (#14327405)
          Carbon-14 (the radioactive isotope of carbon used in carbon dating) is continuously generated on Earth at a fairly constant rate, by the interaction of neutrons (from cosmic rays) with nitrogen (and occasionally oxygen and carbon) atoms. So, 'new' carbon-14 atoms are being made all the time.

          Because it has a relatively constant abundance in nature, living things should also maintain the same ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in their tissues... until they die, at which point they're no longer taking in new carbon from the environment. Then the carbon-14 starts to decay (with a half-life of ~5700 years), but the carbon-12, which is stable, remains. Measuring this ratio can give an approximation of the length of time since the creature died.

          The carbon-12 in your body is stable, and could very well pre-date the solar system. Carbon-14 doesn't hang around very long, in astronomical timescales. :)
    • by pnewhook (788591) on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:57PM (#14327092)
      We are all made of stars?

      Actually, even the bible tells us this is so. "Ashes to ashes... dust to dust...".

      Could interpret this literally and say that we (the Sun, Earth and life on it) are made from interstellar dust initially, and that's where we end up when the solar system ends its life and turns back to ashes and dust when the sun explodes.

      • Uhm. Ashes to Ashes Dust to Dust is not in The Bible.

        It came from a Book of Common Prayers and is based on Genesis 3:19:

        By the sweat of your brow
        you will eat your food
        until you return to the ground,
        since from it you were taken;
        for dust you are
        and to dust you will return
  • Drake equation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tpjunkie (911544) on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:29PM (#14326915) Journal
    I'd say this would definitely incresase the probability of the drake equation resulting in a non-zero answer. Complex organic molecule formation is one of the biggies that you need for development of life.
    • I'm inorganic you insensitive clod!
    • Re:Drake equation (Score:2, Informative)

      by Golias (176380)
      Complex organic molecule formation is one of the biggies that you need for development of life.

      Too bad we're talking about very simple molecule formation here, or they would really be on to something. Adenine is just a relatively easy-to-form glob of hydrogen and nitrogen.

      Wiki has a map of the molecule in question, if you are curious. [wikipedia.org]
    • Re:Drake equation (Score:2, Informative)

      by FineWolf (941023)
      The Drake equation never returns a zero answer. The minimum result you can get is 1. The reason is simple enough: the equation calculates the possible number of civilisation capable of interstellar communication, and we are one of them.
    • Complex really means something like DNA or a protein, with tens of thousands of atoms in it, not a molecule as simple as a single nucleotide or one amino acid, with a dozen or so.

      It isn't really the step from the simplest of molecules, like water, to slightly more complex molecules, like amino acids, which is the problem. Experiments starting with Stanley Miller's have shown this is an easy step.

      Very likely the tricky step is forming an enclosed system in which information is passed back and forth from som
      • It's hard to even imagine a plausible evolutionary sequence that leads from random organic molecules to this kind of system. The problem is that the benefits of being "alive", in particular being able to reproduce yourself are clear, but it's hard to see any benefits to being "halfway alive", e.g. to having half of the necessary molecules for reproducing yourself. That makes it hard to imagine any intermediate steps between non-life and life that would be favored by natural selection. And if there aren't a

  • These spectrograms! Artists can infer a lot from them, just look at that fine picture that they extrapolated from the data [for planet forming]

    Since they took care of the latter half of the article, I figure I'll cover for the former.

    Here is an ASCII artist's impression of what the organic material might look like, circling that sun-like star! .O.
  • DNA in space? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lawpoop (604919) on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:33PM (#14326944) Homepage Journal
    I just thought of something while looking at the graphic -- what if RNA and DNA originally assemble in the pre-planetary cloud and hang around, falling into condensing planets and so forth?

    I think the current popular theory, IIRC, is that RNA molecules somehow stack up in a tidal pool, where they are gently rocked back and forth. Some correct me please.

    So how hard would it be to get DNA to link up in microgravity? Sure, there's more radiation around to blast things apart, but that might be a good thing -- you could get molecules you might not get otherwise without the blowing apart. Also, in microgravity, molecules can float around in 3 dimensions.
    • Just imagine if you saw the actual spectrograph!

      oh... you were inspired.

      *runs off*
    • Last I followed this (which was a while ago) the prevailing idea was that the sloshing around produced RNAs with catalytic activity, which enabled the cascade of new activities that eventually led to the DNA-RNA-protein system. In space, you might be able to get the same initial sequence but it's hard to see what it would then do out there.

      (Honestly, once you've dismissed the creationism/ID crowd and declared that there must be some scientific explanation for life, it remains that the current theories deman

      • Re:DNA in space? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LordKazan (558383) on Friday December 23, 2005 @01:02PM (#14327121) Homepage Journal
        There is no such thing as "ludacrously improbable" when it comes to cosmology - real world probabilities are tried in parallel not in serial.

        They worked out the probabilities for life as we know it occuring randomly - they were small per trial however you must apply the Law of Extremely Large Numbers - ie a huge ammount of trials. Turns out the number of stars likely to have planets in the habital zone overwhelmed the probability by about 10,000 planets likely to have life of some form.

        Don't try to fathom real world probabilities in terms of serial trials of flipping a coin.
        • Re:DNA in space? (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Otter (3800)
          Turns out the number of stars likely to have planets in the habital zone overwhelmed the probability by about 10,000 planets likely to have life of some form.

          That's precisely my point -- once you're in the realm of multiplying an insanely large number pulled out of your ass by an insanely small number pulled out of your ass, it's arguably irrelevant that the number the OP is pulling out of his ass is even smaller.

          Occam's Razor went by the boards long ago on this front, for the reasons you say.

        • by Rick.C (626083) on Friday December 23, 2005 @04:17PM (#14328272)
          There is no such thing as "ludacrously improbable"

          IIRC, that was one of the speed settings on the Heart of Gold's throttle lever.

    • It doesn't have to be RNA and DNA exactly, if fact, it probably wouldn't be. Almost any self-replicating error-correcting organic molecule would do, we're just stuck on a local maxima.
    • Re:DNA in space? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hiro Antagonist (310179) on Friday December 23, 2005 @01:01PM (#14327111) Journal
      Well, radiation is the first problem; there's a hell of a lot of organic-molecule-shattering 'waves of doom' in space, way more than on the surface of a planet that has the shielding of both an atmosphere and a magenetosphere[1].

      Second, tidal pools on a planet keep everything nicely together in the same general area, courtesey of Our Friend Gravity. Tidal pools, at least on Earth, also provide a very necessary solvent for the whole organic chemistry process -- water. No water, and pretty much all of the organic processes that we know about stop working; in fact, when you look at the chemistry, it almost seems that an oxygen atmosphere is optional, but that water is a base requiremet for life because of its properties as a solvent.

      So, no, it's doubtful that complex molecules like Keith Richards will form outside of a suitable gravity well, and doubly doubtful that complex organic molecules (e.g., DNA) will form without liquid water.

      [1] That's a magnetic field around a planet, not a hamster ball for Sir Ian McKellen.
      • Re:DNA in space? (Score:4, Informative)

        by lawpoop (604919) on Friday December 23, 2005 @02:01PM (#14327453) Homepage Journal
        "it almost seems that an oxygen atmosphere is optional,"

        In fact, Earth's atmostphere originally had no oxygen, until the first anaerobic microbes began producting oxygen as a by-product of their metabolism.
    • Re:DNA in space? (Score:2, Informative)

      by SigILL (6475)
      So how hard would it be to get DNA to link up in microgravity? Sure, there's more radiation around to blast things apart, but that might be a good thing -- you could get molecules you might not get otherwise without the blowing apart. Also, in microgravity, molecules can float around in 3 dimensions.

      They can do the same in water. However, one of the problems with trying to get organic chemicals in microgravity is that the cloud in which they're supposed to originate is very sparse. Thus, spontaneous creat

  • by mister_llah (891540) on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:38PM (#14326976) Homepage Journal
    """
    The detection supports the widely held theory that many of the molecular building blocks of life were present in the solar system even before planets formed, thus assisting the initial formation of complex organic molecules and the start of life itself.
    """

    Wait, so finding organic molecules around a planet supports this how? Can we tell the age of those particles, or that stellar nursery? If we are to believe a lightning strike can create life from amino acids and things of this nature... why would this support that conclusion in particular?

    Maybe I'm missing the point. Perhaps someone can explain things to me?
    • The solar system in question has no planets yet.
      • Right, so what we have is a possible single case scenario, but there is no evidence of when those aminos may have come from (could have been carried from another location) ... there are just so many variables, that I can't see how this would be anything but a very weak connection.
        • I think that's why they say that the discovery supports the theory instead of saying that the discovery proves the theory.
          • Right, but the support is so incredibly weak, why even mention it?

            That's like saying that because some unknown substance glows, it supports that it is radioactive, because other radioactive things glow.

            It also supports that it is a lightbulb.

            And also that it is hot... ... and many other things.

            *taps the subject*
            • That's like saying that because some unknown substance glows, it supports that it is radioactive, because other radioactive things glow.

              Actually, this situation is more like saying we have a theory that radioactive substances glow, and we find a glowing radioactive substance.

        • Actually, it's a pretty undeiable fact that these chemicals ARE present in that solar system BEFORE the planets have formed (because the chemicals are there and the planets are not).

          Just because it's possible that the theory is not true in all cases, this certainly supports that the theory is true in at least some cases.

    • These chemicals were found in a dust cloud orbiting a young star. No planets have yet condensed out of the cloud. As such, the chemicals are there before the planets, like the theory says.
    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday December 23, 2005 @01:59PM (#14327437) Journal
      There are two points to this discovery. On the one hand, it demonstrates that organic precursor molecules can form in environments we simply thought impossible, or hadn't even thought of. Second, it means that such molecules could hitch a ride to a proto-Earth on comets and meteors, and thus be the source of the organic stew. What it really tells us is that the building blocks of life, if not life itself, are probably quite common, which raises the possibility that life itself may be relatively common. Even if it isn't life as complex as that which we find on Earth, one can probably safely assume that there are any number of planets out there where some pretty complex organic interactions are occuring.
  • by herwin (169154) <herwin@thewo r l d.com> on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:52PM (#14327062) Homepage Journal
    We're several years away from being able to do spectrographic studies of rocky planets orbiting other stars (or rocky moons), but once we reach that point, it will probably be only time until we detect free oxygen and/or other molecules that disappear rapidly in the absence of life.
  • I think this article would be more credible if it was posted on the Food Network instead of Slashdot. What nerd/geek/techie would be interested in what's laying around the Intelligent Designer's kitchen?
  • by dtjohnson (102237) on Friday December 23, 2005 @12:57PM (#14327090)
    Life is not the presence of particular molecules. Life is the plan by which the molecules are constructed into a living organism. Molecules without the plan by which they operate are no different than computer hardware without any software installed on it. Finding hydrogen cyanide and acetylene present around another star is more a comment on the improving ability to detect molecules at a distance than it is on the presence of the 'building blocks of life.' It would have been much more remarkable if they had NOT found those substances since they are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen which we would expect to be ubiquitous in the universe, based on our present knowledge. Claiming to have found the 'building blocks of life' around another star is just hype to help pump up the budget for next years work.
  • Keep in mind that while this stuff is in the habitable zone right now, that doesn't mean anything will be there in the future. As we've seen from the 100+ planets already found, many systems apparently develop with Jupter-sized and larger planets in either close orbits or wildly eccentric orbits that will result in smaller planets in the habitable zone being either thrown into their host star or, more likely, expelled from their solar system.

    Factor into this that single cell "life" began on this planet almo
  • by revery (456516) <charles@ca[ ]net ['c2.' in gap]> on Friday December 23, 2005 @01:18PM (#14327214) Homepage
    To inhabitants of the T'nsha'grlsk galaxy this is hardly surprising. Scattered across their saucier-pan-shaped galaxy are planets containing the ingredients for Fetucinni Alfredo, Pork Tenderloin, Chicken Cacciatore, and in what will most likely result in a lawsuit should humans develop interstellar space travel, the McRib.

    When asked about the ingredients for Life, Ss's'krpwjdnq waved his third-dimension-bound tentacles wildly and secreted an information packed protein strand. While there is no English equivalent for his communique, a rough translation would be "Given the chance to eat a human, I would."

  • by joelsanda (619660) on Friday December 23, 2005 @01:19PM (#14327215) Homepage

    The ingredients of Life [lifecereal.com].

    Sure as hell don't have to go that far out to get it - local supermarket has it!

  • by Dark Coder (66759) on Friday December 23, 2005 @02:17PM (#14327536)
    I'll point out the criteria to a successful adenine (a component of DNA) creation as I recall from various scientific sources (Intelligent Design not withstanding):

    1. Gravity of at least 0.4 G is a requirement (micro-gravity need not apply here as a recent ISS scientific experiement shown with regard to catalyst of acytelene/water/hydrogen under electric sparks/shocks)

    2. Swirling motions (tidal pool is nature's best liquid/air agitators)

    3. Minimal radiation (asinine will not remain cohesive for long under gamma bombardments)
            This means a heavy shielding must be in place, which means dense air and/or planet

    4. Lightning... the very most improbable of all aspect of the building block starter. It's gotta strike at the right place and the right time, preferably near the tidal pool.

    I'd gotta hand it to mother nature and God, we are one lucky fools on this unqiue planet, Earth.

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb

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