The Daily Telegraph

Chance of discoverin­g aliens increases as ‘ingredient­s for life’ found across the galaxy

- By Sarah Knapton SCIENCE EDITOR

THE chance of finding life beyond Earth is more likely than first thought, after scientists found “significan­t amounts” of large organic molecules surroundin­g young stars.

The findings suggest that the basic chemical conditions that resulted in life on Earth could exist more widely across the Milky Way, according to a study by the University of Leeds.

The team studied the discs of swirling material that surround stars and eventually come together to form planets. They found large reservoirs of precursor molecules, which are “stepping stones”’ to complex molecules needed for life, such as sugars, amino acids and ribonuclei­c acid.

The scientists picked up the unique spectral “fingerprin­t”’ of each molecule using the Alma radio telescope in Chile.

Dr John Ilee, who led the study, said: “Alma has allowed us to look for these molecules in the innermost regions of these disks, on size scales similar to our solar system, for the first time.

“Our analysis shows that the molecules are primarily located in these inner regions with abundances between 10 and 100 times higher than models had predicted.” Crucially, the disc regions in which the molecules were found are also where asteroids and comets form. It suggests that the same mechanism may be at work throughout the galaxy and beyond.

“The key result of this work shows that the same ingredient­s needed for seeding life on our planet are also found around other stars,” said Dr Catherine Walsh. “It is possible that the molecules that are needed to kick-start life on planets are readily available in all planet-forming environmen­ts.”

The study was published in the Astrophysi­cal Journal supplement series.

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