Herschel Finds Possible Life-Enabling Molecules in Space

Mar 04, 2010
Data, called a spectrum, showing water and organics in the Orion nebula. The data were taken by the heterodyne instrument for the far infrared, or HIFI, onboard the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency-led mission with important participation from NASA. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Herschel Space Observatory has revealed the chemical fingerprints of potentially life-enabling organic molecules in the Orion nebula, a nearby stellar nursery in our Milky Way galaxy.

The new data, obtained with the telescope's heterodyne instrument for the far infrared -- one of Herschel's three innovative instruments -- demonstrates the gold mine of information that Herschel will provide on how organic molecules form in space.

The Orion nebula is known to be one of the most prolific chemical factories in space, although the full extent of its chemistry and the pathways for molecule formation are not well understood. By sifting through the pattern of spikes in the new data, called a spectrum, astronomers have identified a few common molecules that are precursors to life-enabling molecules, including water, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methanol, dimethyl ether, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur oxide and sulfur dioxide.

is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by a consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA.

Explore further: Full lunar eclipse delights Americas, first of year

Related Stories

Herschel Opens Its Infrared Eyes

Jun 29, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Herschel Space Observatory has snapped its first picture since blasting into space on May 14, 2009. The mission, led by the European Space Agency with important participation from NASA, ...

Herschel first images promise bright future

Jul 10, 2009

Herschel has carried out the first test observations with all its instruments, with spectacular results. Galaxies, star-forming regions and dying stars comprised the telescope's first targets. The instruments ...

Herschel readies itself for the Orion Nebula (w/ Video)

Jan 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA's Herschel observatory is back to full operation following the reactivation of its HiFi instrument. HiFi, having been offline for 160 days while engineers investigated an unexpected problem ...

Herschel takes a peek at the ingredients of the galaxies

Nov 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The European Space Agency has today released spectacular new observations from the Herschel Space Observatory, including the UK-led SPIRE instrument. Spectrometers on board all three Hershel ...

Reaching the parts -- with Herschel and SPIRE

Apr 03, 2007

A UK-led instrument which will study a previously unexplored part of the Universe leaves the UK this week to be installed on the European Space Agency's Herschel spacecraft in Germany.

Recommended for you

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

Apr 15, 2014

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Melting during cooling period

(Phys.org) —A University of Maine research team says stratification of the North Atlantic Ocean contributed to summer warming and glacial melting in Scotland during the period recognized for abrupt cooling ...