Astrochemistry: September 2020

The matter between the stars in a galaxy - called the interstellar medium - consists not only of gas, but also of a great deal of dust.

Small organic molecules are thought to provide building blocks for the formation of complex interstellar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

New research led by the American Museum of Natural History and funded by NASA identifies a process that might have been key in producing the first organic molecules on Earth about 4 billion years ago, before the origin of life. The process, which is similar to what might have occurred in some ancient underwater hydrothermal vents, may also have relevance to the search for life elsewhere in the universe. Details of the study are published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When searching for exoplanets and ultimately considering their habitability, it is necessary to consider the planet's composition, geophysical processes, and geochemical cycles in order to constrain the bioessential elements available to life.