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Space Science

Stormy Alien Atmospheres May Spark Seeds of Life 44

astroengine writes "In research presented at the Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London on Friday, astronomers discussed the dusty, stormy atmospheres of exoplanets and brown dwarfs and how they could be hothouses for the formation of prebiotic molecules. These are organic molecules that are known to form the building blocks for life as we know it. 'The atmospheres around exoplanets and brown dwarfs form exotic clouds that, instead of being composed of water droplets, are made of dust particles made of minerals,' said astronomer Craig Stark, of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The idea is that lightning storms generate copious amounts of highly charged ions and electrons, which then get stuck to dust particles, using them as miniature prebiotic chemistry factories. Of particular interest is the formation of formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and the amino acid glycine, all of which underpin Earth's biosphere."
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Stormy Alien Atmospheres May Spark Seeds of Life

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  • by Laxori666 ( 748529 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @04:19PM (#45920305) Homepage
    ... generating animate matter from inanimate matter, and conscious and self-aware animate matter from non-. It's truly fascinating!
  • Re:Self Awareness (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Friday January 10, 2014 @05:12PM (#45920919)

    My question though is at what point those molecules become alive?

    When they bump into each other and form something that reproduces itself. Abiogenesis. [] After that happens evolution kicks in and they're on the course towards launching rockets towards Earth and killing us all.

    When do they start reproducing

    Good question. Once you get the primordial soup, they bump around randomly until they form things of interest. Cell membranes are easy. Lipids naturally cling to each other and make little bubbles. There's a tough call about which part of the next process came first and how they made the other half: Proteins or nucleic acids? They kind of make each other. Like I said, this is a good question.

    or even get the will/understanding the need to reproduce/split to survive?

    I don't think that bacteria particularly have/need any amount of willpower or understanding to reproduce, split, and/or survive. They just need to do it. We personify these things a lot as a teaching aide, like saying the river water WANTS to flow to the sea, but they're just dumb cells.

    How does that transformation occur that takes this energy from lightning or whatever and converts it to life?

    Oh, that's easy: the energy from lightning converts some common chemicals into some other chemicals. Specifically, methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), water (H2O), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon dioxide (CO2) or carbon monoxide (CO), and phosphate (PO43-) get electrocuted and can turn into, among other things, amino acids. These chemicals are the basic building blocks of life and the idea is that if you bump them together enough that they'll form into something that reproduces. That's the definition of life.

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost