Holding out hope for alien life somewhere out there? According to a recent study from Cardiff University, you may have to wait a long, long time – if phosphorus isn’t present, it could be difficult for that life to exist. Phosphorus is one of the six elements Earth’s organisms depend on, and researchers Jane Greaves and Phil Cigan found it in short supply near the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, around 6,500 light years away.
In light of these new findings, we may be alone in the universe after all. Greaves said phosphorus “is crucial to the compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which cells use to store and transfer energy.” Astronomers have begun paying attention to phosphorus’ cosmic origins, and have discovered it’s created in supernovae.
Cigan and Greaves observed infrared light from phosphorus in the Crab Nebula using the William Herschel Telescope. They compared two “stellar explosions based on how they each ejected phosphorus into the atmosphere,” thanks to other scientists’ research on phosphorus in Cassiopeia A. Preliminary results hint “material blown out into space could vary dramatically in chemical composition.”
Greaves said, “The route to carrying phosphorus into new-born planets looks rather precarious…If phosphorus is sourced from supernovae, and then travels across space in meteoritic rocks, it’s possible that a young planet could find itself lacking in reactive phosphorus because of where it was born. That is, it started off near the wrong kind of supernova. In that case, life might really struggle to get started out of phosphorous-poor chemistry, on another world otherwise similar to our own.”
At the European Week of Astronomy and Space, Cigan and Greaves presented the preliminary results. They hope to continue to work and discover whether other supernova remnants lack phosphorus too, to discover if the element is rarer than scientists once thought.
Via The Telegraph