Lack of phosphorus in the Universe reduces the chances for extraterrestrial life

The Crab Nebula

Investigating the space in the search for signs of life astronomers usually pay attention to the presence and concentration of chemical elements such as oxygen and carbon. However, another element that has a very important value, at least for life on Earth, could be the key to the discovery of systems within the Milky Way, have suitable conditions for the existence of living organisms.

Lack of phosphorus in the Universe reduces the chances for extraterrestrial life

"Phosphorus is one of six chemical elements that affect biology. Other elements are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur. impossible the emergence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which has great importance in the exchange of energy and substances in the body, "without phosphorus - quotes the words of Popular Mechanics Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales (UK).

Phosphorus is a relatively rare element in the universe and the rarest of the six needed for the life that surrounds us. In trace quantities it is synthesized in the fusion reaction in stars, but the main source of phosphorus in the universe are supernew. It is believed that by weight of the phosphorus matter in the universe is only 0 0007 per cent.

But a new study of the international group of scientists says that some supernovae produce less phosphorus than the other, and in general its content in the universe may be much less than expected, which means that the places where it is sufficient for life - are also less . These findings, researchers came after a study of two nebulae - Cassiopeia A and the Crab Nebula. Early results indicate that the Crab contained significantly less phosphorus than Cassiopeia A.

Lack of phosphorus in the Universe reduces the chances for extraterrestrial life

Cassiopeia A

The difference in the content of phosphorus surprised scientists because computer simulations show that two nebulae were formed from the same type supernew, and therefore should contain the same amount of the element. Understanding the reasons for this difference may help us to understand how the universe is distributed vital chemical elements.

In one assumption, the difference could mean that it is not known to science processes during explosions supernew lead to more or less intense synthesis of certain elements. It is also possible that the discrepancy is due to a difference in the two nebulas age. Light from the supernova explosion that gave birth to the Crab Nebula, reached Earth about a thousand years ago. Evidence of it still preserved in the Chinese chronicles, composed of not less than one thousand years ago. In turn, the light of a star explosion that produced the nebula Cassiopeia reached Earth just 300 years ago. And no information about the earlier period, we do not have surveillance.

"Perhaps, phosphorus and its compounds, which appeared in the Crab Nebula, could eventually go from the gas phase to the solid. At least it would explain the difference between the two spectra of gas nebulae "- scientists say.

But perhaps a simpler explanation: when the telescope William Herschel in Hawaii was sent to the Crab Nebula, the sky was cloudy and it could distort the measurement results.

Conclusions about the different phosphorus content in supernova remnants remains to be tested, the authors point out. This can help a new space telescope, "James Webb", the launch of which, by the way, recently postponed again. The unit will be designed for observations in the infrared range and, scientists believe, is perfect for the content of phosphorus measurements in supernova remnants. However, if it turns out that the above conclusions are correct, it would mean that life in the universe is even less likely than we thought.