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Astronomer searches for precursors of life

ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 28 (UPI) -- A University of Michigan astronomer says he will use the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Telescope to search for the precursors of life.

Associate Professor Ted Bergin said many organic molecules that make up life on Earth have also been found in space. Bergin wants to study those chemical compounds to gain insights into how organic molecules form in space, and, possibly, how life formed on Earth.

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Bergin is a co-investigator on the Heterodyne Instrument for the Infrared aboard Herschel and a principal investigator on one of its key observing programs. Herschel is scheduled to be launched May 14, allowing astronomers to observe at the far-infrared wavelengths where organic molecules and water emit their chemical signatures.

"We'll be studying the full extent of chemistry in space and we hope to learn what types of organics are out there as a function of their distance from a star," Bergin said. "And we want to understand the chemical machinery that led to the formation of these organics."

Bergin said he also will be looking for water molecules in space.

"Most of the water in the solar system is not where we are, but further out in the solar system," Bergin said. "Most theories suggest that the Earth formed dry and impacts from asteroids or other objects provided the water here."

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