Astronomers to search for precursors to life in cosmic dust

May 6th, 2009 - 1:49 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 6 (ANI): A University of Michigan astronomer has decided to use the Herschel Space Observatory to study the organic molecules that make up life on Earth in new detail in the warm clouds of gas and dust around young stars.

The astronomer in question is Ted Bergin, an associate professor in the Department of Astronomy, University of Michigan.

He hopes to gain insights into how organic molecules form in space, and possibly, how life formed on Earth.

“The chemistry of space makes molecules that are the precursors of life. It’s possible that the Earth didn’t have to make these things on its own, but that they were provided from space,” said Bergin.

Herschel, a European Space Agency mission with NASA participation, is scheduled to launch on May 14.

An orbiting telescope that will unlock new wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum, it will allow astronomers to observe at the far-infrared wavelengths where organic molecules and water emit their chemical signatures.

“We’ll be studying the full extent of chemistry in space and we hope to learn what types of organics are out there as a function of their distance from a star,” Bergin said. “And we want to understand the chemical machinery that led to the formation of these organics,” he added.

In faraway galaxies and stellar nurseries, astronomers have detected complex organic sugar and hydrocarbon molecules that are key components in chlorophyll in plants and RNA.

Bergin expects to detect tens if not hundreds of these kinds of compounds - some of which have never been found before outside the Earth. (ANI)

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