Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Red Dust In Planet-forming Disk May Harbor Precursors To Life

Date:
January 3, 2008
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
Astronomers have found the first indications of highly complex organic molecules in the disk of red dust surrounding a distant star. The eight-million-year-old star, known as HR 4796A, is inferred to be in the late stages of planet formation, suggesting that the basic building blocks of life may be common in planetary systems.

Red and near infrared wavelengths from the dust disk surrounding the star HR 4796A (masked in false-color image to make fainter disk visible) suggest the presence of complex organic molecules. The inner "hole" of the ring-shaped disk is big enough to fit our entire solar system and may have been swept clean of dust by orbiting planets.
Credit: John Debes

Astronomers at the Carnegie Institution have found the first indications of highly complex organic molecules in the disk of red dust surrounding a distant star. The eight-million-year-old star, known as HR 4796A, is inferred to be in the late stages of planet formation, suggesting that the basic building blocks of life may be common in planetary systems.

In a study published in the current Astrophysical Journal Letters, John Debes and Alycia Weinberger of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism with Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona report observations of infrared light from HR 4796A using the Near-Infrared Multi-Object Spectrometer aboard the Hubble Space Telescope.

The researchers found that the spectrum of visible and infrared light scattered by the star's dust disk looks very red, the color produced by large organic carbon molecules called tholins. The spectrum does not match those of other red substances, such as iron oxide.

Tholins do not form naturally on present-day Earth because oxygen in the atmosphere would quickly destroy them, but they are hypothesized to have existed on the primitive Earth billions of years ago and may have been precursors to the biomolecules that make up living organisms. Tholins have been detected elsewhere in the solar system, such as in comets and on Saturn's moon Titan, where they give the atmosphere a red tinge. This study is the first report of tholins outside the solar system.

"Until recently it's been hard to know what makes up the dust in a disk from scattered light, so to find tholins this way represents a great leap in our understanding," says Debes.

HR 4796A is located in the constellation Centaurus, visible primarily form the southern hemisphere. It is about 220 light years from Earth. The discovery of its dust disk in 1991generated excitement among astronomers, who consider it a prime example of a planetary system caught in the act of formation. The dust is generated by collisions of small bodies, perhaps similar to the comets or asteroids in our solar system, and which may be coated by the organics. These planetesimals can deliver these building blocks for life to any planets that may also be circling the star.

"Astronomers are just beginning to look for planets around stars much different from the Sun. HR 4796A is twice as massive, nearly twice as hot as the sun, and twenty times more luminous than the Sun," says Debes. "Studying this system provides new clues to understanding the different conditions under which planets form and, perhaps, life can evolve."

Image Caption: Red and near infrared wavelengths from the dust disk surrounding the star HR 4796A (masked in false-color image to make fainter disk visible) suggest the presence of complex organic molecules. The inner "hole" of the ring-shaped disk is big enough to fit our entire solar system and may have been swept clean of dust by orbiting planets. (Image: John Debes)

This research is based on observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and was supported by NASA and the NASA Astrobiology Institute.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Red Dust In Planet-forming Disk May Harbor Precursors To Life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 January 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103132303.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2008, January 3). Red Dust In Planet-forming Disk May Harbor Precursors To Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103132303.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Red Dust In Planet-forming Disk May Harbor Precursors To Life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103132303.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system passed extremely close to Mars this weekend, giving astronomers a rare opportunity to study it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

AFP (Oct. 17, 2014) Argentina launches a home-built satellite, a first for Latin America. It will ride a French-made Ariane 5 rocket into orbit, and will provide cell phone, digital TV, Internet and data services to the lower half of South America. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

NASA (Oct. 17, 2014) Power spacewalk, MAVEN’s “First Light”, Hubble finds extremely distant galaxy and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) The smallest of Saturn's main moons, Mimas, wobbles as it orbits. Research reveals it might be due to a global ocean underneath its icy surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins