Washington, Feb 6 : Researchers have used the world's largest radio telescope-the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, to detect the presence of building blocks of life in the distant galaxy Arp 220.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the researchers have discovered the presence of methanimine in Arp 220.
Methanimine can form the simplest amino acid, glycine, when it reacts with either hydrogen cyanide and then water, or formic acid, which are all precursors of life.
"The fact that we can observe these substances at such a vast distance means that there are huge amounts of them in Arp 220," said Emmanuel Momjian, a former Arecibo astronomer, now at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico.
"It is indeed very intriguing to find that the ingredients of life appear in large quantities where new stars and planets are born," he added.
The new discovery came during the first of two summers that scientists spent surveying Arp 220's composition using the Arecibo telescope.
Chris Salter, an Arecibo astronomer, likened the chemical survey to a "treasure hunt" that hit gold on the very first night of observing.
"Methanimine has been previously detected in our own galaxy and tentatively in the nearby galaxy NGC 253, but never beyond the neighborhood," said Salter.
According to Esteban Araya, an astronomer at New Mexico Tech in Socorro and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the discovery of methanimine in Arp 220, along with abundant circumstantial evidence, such as the short time it took life to appear on the early Earth, suggest that life may be quite common in the universe.
"Moreover, the discovery shows complex organic molecules can exist in very inhospitable environments, such as starburst regions," he said.
But, the scientists warn that Arp 220 has undergone a recent merger and hosts a vibrant star nursery. With new stars living hot and fast, then violently exploding, conditions are probably too turbulent to allow life to evolve.
"The shake-ups during rapid star formation probably created the molecules in the first place-but the chance that they'll yield complex life in such a wild scene is low," said Araya.
"Nevertheless, it is possible that some of the methanimine will be trapped in dust grains and will enrich the interstellar medium of Arp220," he added.
According t Araya, when the tumultuous present activity of Arp220 settles down, new generations of stars like our sun may be formed, and some of the organic molecules trapped in dust grains may enrich newly formed planets.