Alien Life May Not Exist Due To Lack Of Phosphorus

Posted: Apr 6 2018, 3:26pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 7 2018, 1:23am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Alien Life may not Exist Due to Lack of Phosphorus
Composite of infrared (shown as red), visible (green) and ultraviolet (violet) images of the Crab Nebula. Credit: J. Greaves

Researchers have found that a key ingredient for life is missing in many parts of the universe.

There is a general consensus among scientists that many planets besides Earth host life. If any other planet is habitable, it must contain all necessary ingredients to support life. However, no life been found outside our planet so far.

Life as we know it here on Earth also requires many crucial chemical elements in its atmosphere. One of them is phosphorus, which is necessary for global biological processes. But researchers have found that this key ingredient is lacking in many parts of the universe, making it difficult for extraterrestrial life to exist.

"Phosphorus is one of just six chemical elements on which Earth organisms depend, and it is crucial to the compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which cells use to store and transfer energy. Astronomers have just started to pay attention to the cosmic origins of phosphorus and found quite a few surprises,” explained Cardiff University astronomer Dr. Jane Greaves.

“Astronomers have just started to pay attention to the cosmic origins of phosphorus and found quite a few surprises. In particular, P is created in supernovae – the explosions of massive stars – but the amounts seen so far don't match our computer models. I wondered what the implications for life on other planets if unpredictable amounts of P are spat out into space and later used in the construction of new planets.”

To find out, researchers used UK's William Herschel Telescope to detect the traces of phosphorus and iron in the famous Crab Nebula – a remnant of supernova located around 6500 light years away from Earth. Then they compared the results with the data from another remnant of star known as Cassiopeia A. Although astronomers struggled with foggy nights during the observations, they had enough evidence to draw a conclusion.

“This is only the second such study of phosphorus that has been made. The first looked at the Cassiopeia A (Cas A) supernova remnant, and so we are able to compare two different stellar explosions and see if they ejected different proportions of phosphorus and iron," said Dr. Phil Cigan, an expert on stellar remnants.

“These are our preliminary results, which we extracted only in the last couple of weeks! But at least for the parts of the Crab Nebula we were able to observe so far, there seems to be much less phosphorus than in Cas A. The two explosions seem to differ from each other, perhaps because Cas A results from the explosion of a rare super-massive star. We've just asked for more telescope time to go back and check, in case we've missed some phosphorus-rich regions in the Crab Nebula."

Researchers are planning to continue their research. They believe that further observations will help them establish whether other supernova remnants also lack phosphorus and whether this crucial ingredient of life is actually rarer than we thought.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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