Organic Molecules found in interstellar space !

Since historic times, we have wondered where we came from and where life originated. As it became apparent that the Earth was just one planet orbiting the Sun, that the Sun was just one star among ∼1011 in our galaxy, and that the Galaxy itself was only one such object among ∼1011 similar systems populating the Universe out to a cosmic horizon, with perhaps countless more lying beyond, it became clear that life on other planets, near some other star, in some other galaxy was possible. The cosmological principle also makes this idea philosophically attractive. It would suggest that life is some general state of matter that prevails throughout the Universe. The probability of finding some form of life, however primitive, on other planets either within the Solar System or around nearby stars seems very high from this point of view. Nevertheless, we are unable to predict where life should exist, mainly because we do not yet understand the thermodynamics of living organisms and what different forms life may take.

As we know, things to be in equilibrium they should follow some permitted rules. Likewise, thermodynamics distinguishes between three types of systems. Isolated systems exchange neither energy nor matter with their surroundings. Closed systems exchange energy but not matter, and open systems exchange both matter and energy with the surroundings. Biological systems are always open, but in carrying out some of their functions, they may act as closed systems. Biological processes also exhibit a well-defined time dependence. Some physical processes could take place equally well whether time runs forward or backward. If we viewed a film of a clock’s pendulum, we would not be sure whether the film was running forward or back. Only if the film also showed the ratchet mechanism that advances the hands of the clock, would we be able to tell whether it was running in the right direction. The pendulum motion is reversible but the action of a ratchet is an irreversible process. Biological processes are invariably irreversible. In an irreversible process, entropy, a measure of disorder, always increases. If a cool interstellar grain absorbs visible starlight and re-emits the radiation thermally it does so by giving off a large number of low-energy photons.

The Universe is fundamentally biological. Even the Urey-Miller experiment that simulated the theorized early pre-life conditions on Earth, and produced amino acids, suggests this. The ammonia used was obtained by a process involving hydrogen of bio-origin, and the methane was also biological in origin. Non-biological catalysts would be poisoned almost instantaneously by sulfur gases under pre-life conditions. What this means is that most of the material in interstellar grains must be organic or life itself would have been impossible. The spectrum for all grains along the line of sight from the galactic center to the Earth is very much like that of dry bacteria. Either the grains are bacteria or are organic grains in proportions like bacteria (amino acids, nucleic acids, lipids and polysaccharides). Therefore, both theoretically and observationally, organic constituents fit the observations. Organic materials or bacteria would easily align in magnetic fields, and could produce superconducting surfaces that would generate filaments. Organic materials or bacteria could more easily produce the variety of objects in the Universe than inorganic or non-biological materials. As with so much of its constituents, the Universe itself is fundamentally biological. In fact, so much is this the case that life constitutes a physical law; it had to arise, it was an inevitable complexity of the real world is even more extraordinary with a hierarchy of living things.


Life result of the laws of physics as they exist. Moreover, the evidence indicates that the variety and permeates all of space, it is built into the very substance of the Universe, and has even brought about its own self-consciousness we humans. Yet, we have done little, in the scientific realm, to ask one ‘open’ question: Why? And the reason is that most scientists are afraid to admit that the Universe is purposeful and fundamentally biological. If electromagnetism did not exist then there would be no atoms, no chemistry, no life, and no heat and light from the Sun. If there were no strong force then nuclei would not have formed, and therefore, nothing would be. Likewise, if the weak force and gravity did not exist, then you would not be reading this, nor would any form of life be here

Yet, these four very different forces (and no others), each vital to all of the complex structures that make up the Universe, are so fine-tuned that they all combine to make a single super-force. Granted that we do not specifically know how to search for exotic forms of life, could we not find indications of extraterrestrial life in a form familiar on Earth? All terrestrial living matter contains organic molecules of some complexity proteins and nucleic acids, for example and we might expect to find either traces of such molecules or at least of their decay products. We know of two quite distinct locations in which complex molecules are found. There may be many more. First, observations of interstellar molecules by means of their microwave spectra have revealed the existence of such organic molecules as hydrogen cyanide, methyl alcohol, formaldehyde, and formic acid. Larger molecules, such as the sugar glycol-  aldehyde, CH2OHCHO, have also been found to be quite prevalent in interstellar space. Infrared observations similarly have shown the existence of the even larger, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules.



[1] Choudhuri A. R, Astrophysics for Physicists, Cambridge University Press (2010)

[2] Gagnon, E. et al. Soft X-ray-driven femto-second molecular Dynamic.


Chetanath Neupane

He is a graduate researcher of Astrophysics and Biophysics in St. Xavier's College, Kathmandu, Nepal. His research domain includes VMD/NAMD interface to study Large Structure Biomolecules; see some of his research interest in 'Research works section of the website. More Importantly, he actively leading his project "Science for Society-SS" which aims to promote Science ethics/principles to the society of Nepal.

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