About phosphorous and why extraterrestrial life may be a long shot

| | April 13, 2018

Phosphorus is an essential element for life — but that there was enough of it for life to start on Earth might just have been a matter of luck, new findings suggest.

According to new observations of the Crab Nebula — the leftovers from an exploding star first seen by Chinese astronomers in 1054 — presented on April 5 at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Liverpool, England, the abundance and distribution of phosphorus in the Milky Way galaxy may be more random than scientists previously thought. As such, some places in the galaxy may not have enough phosphorus to support life, even if they are home to otherwise hospitable exoplanets, the researchers said.

Most of the universe's phosphorus was created during the last gasps of dying massive stars or during a supernova — when such a star exhausts its fuel and explodes. Phosphorus is difficult to observe, and only in 2013 did astronomers make the first measurements of the element in a stellar explosion, in the wispy remains of a supernova called Cassiopeia A.

If the production of phosphorus varies widely across the galaxy, so might the likelihood of life on other planets. Even if a planet had every other condition required for habitability, it might still be bereft of life because it formed where there was a dearth of phosphorus, the researchers said.

Read full, original post: Why Extraterrestrial Life May Be More Unlikely Than Scientists Thought

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