After A team of NASA exobiology researchers revealed today organicchemicals that play a crucial role in the chemistry of life are commonin space.
"Our work shows a class of compounds that is critical tobiochemistry is prevalent throughout the universe," said DouglasHudgins, an astronomer at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field,Calif. He is principal author of a study detailing the team's findingsthat appears in the Oct. 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
"NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has shown complex organic moleculescalled polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in every nookand cranny of our galaxy. While this is important to astronomers, ithas been of little interest to astrobiologists, scientists who searchfor life beyond Earth. Normal PAHs aren't really important to biology,"Hudgins said. "However, our work shows the lion's share of the PAHs inspace also carry nitrogen in their structures. That changes everything."
"Much of the chemistry of life, including DNA, requires organicmolecules that contain nitrogen," said team member Louis Allamandola,an astrochemist at Ames. "Chlorophyll, the substance that enablesphotosynthesis in plants, is a good example of this class of compounds,called polycyclic aromatic nitrogen heterocycles, or PANHs. Ironically,PANHs are formed in abundance around dying stars. So even in death, theseeds of life are sewn," Allamandola said.
The NASA team studied the infrared "fingerprint" of PANHs inlaboratory experiments and with computer simulations to learn moreabout infrared radiation that astronomers have detected coming fromspace. They used data from the European Space Agency's Infrared SpaceObservatory satellite.
High-resolution images pertaining to this research are available on the Web at:
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/multimedia/images/2005/spitzer.htmlFor more information about this research on the Web, visit:
http://www.astrochem.org/PANHS.htmlFor information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit:
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