The process of how life started on Earth was unknown to everyone until recently when astronomers solved the mystery of where phosphorus actually came from. Phosphorus is a key element for life, it is found in everything from humans to the tiniest life forms and is essential to create living forms. The mystery of how phosphorus actually got to planet Earth remained unresolved for many years.
Astrobiologists were tracking phosphorus in the solar system, studying how it came to planet Earth. New research published recently shows how molecules that contain phosphorus are formed. Researchers used data from ALMA and the European Space Agency's probe Rosetta. The team is composed of VM Rivilla, MN Drozdovskaya, K Altwegg, MT Beltran, P Caselli, F Fontani, R Cesaroni, F Lique, S Marinakis, L Testi, and the ROSINA team.
Víctor Rivilla, the lead author of a new study published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society says, "Life appeared on Earth about 4 billion years ago, but we still do not know the processes that made it possible." With the help of ALMA that provided a detailed look into the star-forming region called AFGL 5142, researchers could pinpoint exactly where phosphorus bearing molecules like phosphorus monoxide form.
After identifying these molecules, researchers focused on the trail of these phosphorus-bearing compounds. The study says that if the cavity walls collapse to form a star much smaller than the sun, phosphorus monoxide can freeze and get trapped in icy dust grains. These grains later come together to form pebbles, rocks and ultimately comets, which become transporters of phosphorus monoxide.
"As comets most probably delivered large amounts of organic compounds to the Earth, the phosphorus monoxide found in comet 67P may strengthen the link between comets and life on Earth", said Kathrin Altwegg, the principal investigator for ROSINA and co-author on the new study.
(with inputs from agencies)