Image via NASA

In the grand scheme of things, scientists are pretty sure about two aspects of our reality: our solar system condensed out of a large cloud of gas, and once the processes of life got started, evolution took over. 3.7 billion years later, here we are. It’s the bits in the middle that have us scratching our heads. Where did the organic molecules come from? How did they form? How did life get its start?

Well, scientists are a step closer to answering one of those questions. Astronomers have recently (and tentatively) found traces of hydroxylamine in the reflection nebula known as Messier 78. This nebula is about 1,600 light-years away, and it is found within the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex.

Hydroxylamine is made up of nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen; it is also a precursor chemical for life. Of course, this chemical could seed life on other worlds, and may provide insight regarding how life got started on our own world, or at least give us some additional information on where the seeds came from. A running hypothesis many scientists hold is that the chemicals for life form inside interstellar clouds. Comets and meteors that form within these clouds contain these molecules. Then, these objects proceed to bombard the planets that form within that solar system during a very turbulent time in its history. These meteors and comets are thus responsible for providing the building blocks for life. Then... it’s all up to the ecosystem of the planet.

Scientists haven’t confirmed the presence of hydroxylamine, so their results are still in the preliminary stages and need to be reviewed/verified. As Stefanie Milam, an astrochemist who was not involved in this particular study said, “Every molecule has a fingerprint, and basically what he’s presented is the thumb print. So, we need all the other fingers to confirm that this is the actual molecule.” Scientists are hopeful though, confirming these results would be an exciting step forward to understanding how we got here, and certainly a step forward in understanding the conditions needed for life elsewhere in the universe.

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