Scientists from Russia revealed the secrets of the first «bricks of life» of the Universe

© University of Copenhagen/Lars BuchhaveПротопланетный gas-dust disk around the starScientists from Russia revealed the secrets of the first «bricks of life» of the Universe© University of Copenhagen/Lars Buchhave

Chemists from Moscow state University have discovered how cosmic rays and other forms of ionizing radiation can change the chemical structure of primitive organic molecules that formed in the Universe in the first moments of its existence, according to an article published in the journal Radiation Physics and Chemistry.

«The next step towards understanding of the processes occurring in interstellar space, will study the chemistry of more complex ICES containing other Astronomicheski important compounds. Ultimately, such studies may shed light on the processes of evolution of extraterrestrial substances prior to the onset of life,» says Anastasia Volosatova, an employee of the chemistry Department of MSU named after M. V. Lomonosov.

In the first era of the Universe lights is almost entirely composed of hydrogen and helium – all other elements, including carbon, nitrogen and oxygen appeared in their depths, and were then scattered through the galaxies during supernova explosions. The next generation of stars spawned an even greater mass of astronomical «metals» – elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.

A small number of these «metals» in the early Universe leads many scientists to believe that life did not arise then, including because the appropriate planets are not formed from-for elementary shortages of building materials. In addition, low concentrations of «metals» could interfere with the synthesis of the first complex organic molecules that make up life.

Volosatova and her colleagues have uncovered one of the possible ways of their formation, watching as the simplest organic molecule is acetonitrile, a compound of methane and nitrogen changes under the action of cosmic rays and radiation.

To conduct such experiments, Russian chemists have created a special chamber in which was maintained a «space» conditions – low temperatures, high radiation levels and an almost complete vacuum. In this camera, scientists injected the pieces of various frozen noble gases — neon, xenon, argon or krypton, which contained inclusions of organic matter, and watched how varied their composition.

These experiments revealed an unusual effect – the chemical composition of the ice, presumably not involved in these reactions greatly affect how cosmic rays transformed the acetonitrile. For example, in neon the ice there were a large number of molecules of isonitrile methane, nitrogen, carbon, and molecules of methane, and neon environment – large quantities of ketenimine (CH2CNH), whose molecules have been found in space.

Monitor more complex reactions, which are planned by the Russian researchers, will show whether the environment and the composition of the grains of ice and dust, which usually is «space» organic, also greatly affect its evolution as the conversion of acetonitrile. The answer to this question, as scholars have noted, extremely important for understanding how and in what environment is there «blocks of life» on Earth.