Is there a beer in space: how is the cosmic void filled

“Cosmos is a cold and barren place. Nothing can exist there, nothing! ”Ludwig Von Drake, the little-known uncle of Donald Duck and professor of astronomy, sits on a high chair in his observatory. When he notices that he is being filmed, he falls and lands on the floor with a loud bang. “I now see stars that I haven’t seen before!” He groans. He walks to the table with a huge pile of books. The thickest of them is a guide to traveling in space, written by himself. In a 45-minute monologue, he tells us with a strong German accent, how mankind discovered planets in our solar system and fantasized about everything that could crawl on them. Sometimes he picks up a book from the pile and reads a passage from it, and then blithely throws it into a corner of the room. He talks about Copernicus and Galileo, Kepler’s dreams of the Martians, Fontenel ’s reasoning about life on other planets, and even John Herschel’s Big Moon Trick . Science fiction comes to life in a colorful cartoon: hairy aliens from space and flying saucers fly across the screen. As a result, the professor says the final words. He thinks all these fantasies are nonsense. Nothing can live in this empty and barren space! But during this speech, Von Drake is kidnapped by a black Martian robot from one of his stories.

This cartoon, Inside the Outer Space, is part of the Walt Disney anthology “The Wonderful World of Color” [Wonderful World of Color], a 1960s television series. A scattered duck professor leads many episodes with his themes: the story of flight, the spectrum of light, space - all that worried American children in the space age.

Lou Alamandola [Lou Allamandola] was a teenager in the 60s, during a time of obsession with science. He grew up in a catholic family in the state of New Jersey. His grandparents were Italian immigrants, and he did not learn to speak English until he started going to school. He still remembers the Disney cartoons with Ludwig Von Drake, which showed Sunday evenings. “Vaughn Drake called interstellar matter — the empty space between stars and planets — a barren place where nothing can exist,” he says to me. “That's all we knew in the 60s.” We now know much more. Interstellar space is full of molecules that can be found on Earth. "

I talk with Alamandola on Wednesday morning, during his visit to the Leiden Observatory. This is a tall man with curly hair graying at the temples. During our conversation, the door to his office periodically opens - these are colleagues who urgently need his opinion on the latest research or an amendment to the article they jointly write. He asks everyone to come back to him in the afternoon. “Here, far from my own office and telephone, it's easier for me to refuse people,” he says. His office is located at Ames Research Center , NASA, California. Since 1983, Alamandola was the head of the Laboratory of Astrochemistry, where they study the behavior of molecules in conditions comparable to open space. Astrochemistry, chemistry of space, a relatively new discipline, and Alamandola is a pioneer in this field.

On July 20, 1969, at the peak of the space age, hundreds of millions of people stuck to televisions and radio sets, watching the Apollo-11 mission landing on the moon. They heard, in the background of radio noise, Neil Armstrong said: "This is one small step for a man, and one giant leap for humanity."

It is remarkable how little we then knew about the chemical composition of the interstellar space intersected by astronauts. And indeed, compared to Earth, the cosmos is very empty.

However, we knew that space was not entirely empty. At the beginning of the 20th century, photographs from telescopes surveying areas filled with stars showed strange dark spots where there were no stars. It turned out to be huge clouds of gas and cold cosmic dust, absorbing the light of the stars behind them. But what was hidden in these dark clouds could be seen with the help of spectroscopy.

Each atom is able to absorb and emit radiation at certain waves, which leads to a fixed pattern of absorption and emission lines in the spectrum. This “fingerprint” can be measured with a spectrograph. Michael Mayer and Joff Marcy measured the changes in the wavelengths of these lines in the stellar spectrum to use the Doppler method to determine the speed of movement of the stars.

Spectral lines are not only for individual atoms. Molecules - combinations of atoms - also emit light of certain wavelengths. These lengths are determined by the movements of the molecules. Hydrogen, the simplest molecule, consists of two hydrogen atoms joined together. This combination is possible due to the fact that two atoms share two of their electrons. They can be imagined as two balls connected by an elastic tape (electrons). Since the ribbon is flexible, atoms can move to and fro, as if performing exercises. Movement can occur at varying speeds. If they change speed or direction, they emit a particle of light. These particles, photons, have certain wavelengths. This means that the light emitted by the cosmic cloud of gas contains spectral lines — an imprint — of the molecules that make up the gas. In general, based on the light emanating from a gas cloud, we can tell which molecules it contains.

The molecules were first discovered in space only in the middle of the 20th century. Previously, this was not possible, since their spectral lines have a very long wavelength, and they can only be detected with radio or infrared telescopes. In 1800, William Herschel first discovered infrared radiation coming from space, but it took a long time to develop improved tools.

Radio astronomy also began its dispersal only in the 1960s, thanks to technology developed during the Second World War. Frank Drake and his colleagues used it for the early SETI experiments, but astronomers who were interested in the formation of stars studied it and radio waves. Clouds of gas and dust were mainly found among groups of young stars, which indicated that stars were born in clouds. When a cloud cools down, its particles move more and more slowly until it collapses under its own gravity. The material in the middle of the cloud is compacted, forming a new star. Astronomers hoped to learn more about this process of formation, studying the spectral radio lines of stellar cradles .

The first molecules found in interstellar gas-dust clouds using radio observations had a very simple structure — no more than two atoms per molecule (then hydrogen, CO, ammonia NH 3, and water H 2 O were found). In March 1969, it was announced the discovery of the most complex of the molecules found: formaldehyde , CH 2 O. The article with the announcement, the main author of which was the radio astronomer Lewis Snyder, ended like this: “in the interstellar space molecules containing at least two atoms more than hydrogen. ”

In this statement, you can catch a certain degree of surprise: until then it was assumed that there was nothing in space. He was the "barren place" of Ludwig Von Drake, a god of forgotten emptiness, where no molecule could survive. And now experiments are being conducted, from which it follows that the space between the stars is chock full of complex chemical matter. Snyder's work came out four months before landing on the moon, which added contrast. Humanity could send astronauts into space, but had no idea about the chemical wealth contained in it.

Alamandola laughs and shakes her head when she thinks about the many discoveries that astronomers of that time were waiting for. In 1968, he received a diploma in chemistry at the College of St. Petra, a small Catholic University of New Jersey. “By some miracle,” he described it himself, he was chosen to conduct PhD studies at the prestigious Berkeley establishment, which had one of the best chemical departments in the country. His mentor was a chemist George Pimentel, “a wonderful man with ten skills,” says Alamandola. One of the many interests of the multifaceted Pimentel, who also invented the chemical laser, was the measurement of the infrared spectrum of gases in the laboratory. He wanted to apply this technology to clarify the question of the existence of life on Mars, determining gases, whose sources are life forms. NASA sent a spectrograph with his own hands on an unmanned ship Mariner, flying past the red planet. The spectrograph did not detect biological materials, but provided a large amount of information on temperature and conditions on the surface of the planet. Then NASA selected Pimentel in the first group of scientists who were trained by astronauts. He, however, left this program when it became clear that he probably would no longer fall into space.

While studying under the guidance of Pimentel, Lou Alamandola became acquainted with infrared spectroscopy in the laboratory. After receiving his degree, he found a job as a researcher in Oregon. When his contract expired in 1976, it became difficult for him to find a new job. “I hit the oil crisis, and I didn’t have enough money for research,” he explains. - Instead of four or five sentences that I would have received ten years ago, I received about 80 refusals. My wife and I have just had a second child, and we were in the dark about our future. And then George Pimentel called me. He heard about the perfect position for me. His acquaintance, astronomer theorist Mayo Greenberg, wanted to set up a laboratory simulating chemical processes in interstellar dust clouds. It was music to my ears. Then George said: “Only one minus. How are you with the Dutch? "

During the following telephone conversations with Greenberg, Alamandola became increasingly infected with enthusiasm for the work he was to do at the Greenberg laboratory in Leiden. Before astronomers only irritated cosmic dust, since dark dust clouds obscured their view of the star formation region. But Greenberg found them extremely interesting. He suspected that particles of cosmic dust were covered with a layer of water ice, like snowballs in which other chemicals were dissolved — for example, oxygen and carbon. Alamandola explains how Greenberg came to this conclusion: “Cosmic dust contains silicon like glass. Water vapor moving in space condenses on silicon just like here on Earth, we see ice patterns on windows in cold weather. The glass cools the air and water vapor freezes. This is not magic, but for some reason the snowballs have not yet occurred to any astronomer. ”

Greenberg and Alamandola became interested in frozen granules, since they can take place all sorts of chemical processes that are impossible in other places. “Imagine a single molecule floating in the vacuum of space,” explains Alamandola. “After a few hundred million years, she meets another molecule, reacts with it and forms a new molecule.” This process would go faster if the molecules were packed more tightly in ice that had settled on cosmic dust. ”

Ice - whose density, in comparison with the interstellar space, is very high, plays the role of a meeting place for molecules. When a star illuminates the surface of a speck of dust, it activates many different chemical processes. The energy obtained from the ultraviolet allows the formation of larger molecules from small bricks (on Earth, the formation of vitamin D and photosynthesis can serve as examples of such processes). If Greenberg’s suspicions were confirmed, a very large set of molecules could appear in the interstellar granules of ice. It is possible that the chemicals from which terrestrial organisms originated originally appeared in space.

So in 1976, Alamandola and his young family moved to Leiden. He stayed there for eight years, and said that his Dutch still remains "pretty bearable." He shows me a photo of a team of researchers in the Leiden laboratory in the 1970s. Eight men and a woman. They have long hair, black-rimmed glasses, some have thick beards. Greenberg is standing in front of the group - a small man with gray hair, in a blue sweater with a high rolled-up collar and a tweed jacket. Assistants are surrounded by complex equipment.

Alamandola says that in the 70s, studies were carried out quite differently from now. “We didn't have these things,” he says, clicking on the laptop screen. - It was considered normal for hours to talk with each other in the buffet. About science. To read the article, you had to go to the library, where you could spend half a day in thought, in peace and quiet. I do not know how many people are now spending the day sitting behind a book. All the time there is a need to make a lot of things. At conferences, people check their mail, instead of listening to the speaker. On a laptop, you can use the whole canon of scientific literature, but this does not help you absorb information faster. Schwarzenegger starred in films about how cars capture the world. In my opinion, in a sense, they have already captured him. ”

The optical spectrum of Comet Hyakutake , demonstrating the characteristic features of various organic molecules

Alamandola shows the following photo, close-up of the car around which the researchers were standing. “This is an ice simulation chamber. I usually do not like to explain the construction of sophisticated instrumentation, but this one is fairly simple. It simply reproduces the situation of the cosmos that we want to repeat. " Without explanation, the car really looks complicated, a bit like the inside of a computer. She has a lamp aimed at something like a cookie tin box, with a tube screwed to it. “It emits ultraviolet light and simulates a star,” says Alamandola, pointing to the map. - The box plays the role of a cloud of dust. It contained a strongly cooled sample of water ice, containing ammonia and carbon monoxide - two molecules common in space. The tube behind it is a spectrograph. He catches a light that tells you whether molecules have formed in the ice, and which ones. ”

It worked. Alamandola shows me two spectra - one before irradiation, the second - two hours after ultraviolet irradiation. The first spectrum shows only the lines of water, carbon monoxide and ammonia — the ingredients of the ice sample. The second contains many new spectral lines indicating the presence of new, larger molecules formed from the basic ingredients.

This result was impressive. Near the stars, the ice covering of cosmic dust turns into molecular factories capable of producing a wide range of complex structures. In 1969, scientists were surprised to find that complex molecules such as formaldehyde could appear in space. And in the ice rooms of Leiden, in conditions coinciding with the cosmos, it began to be received in large quantities in the 1970s.

But the results of the experiments were not immediately noticed and accepted by others. “Astrochemistry was still a young discipline,” Alamandola tells me. - Scientists have discovered more and more new molecules in space. They built theoretical models showing how exactly moles form molecules — in the form of gas, and not in an ice crystal. The fact that these reactions could not have happened if the molecules would simply float separately in space was ignored. Astrochemists coped without our ice pellets. They considered us crazy professors. "

Everything changed in the 1980s, when Alamandola and his colleagues, including Leyden astronomer Xander Tiilens, made observations from the air observatory named after Kuiper , an aircraft of the Lockheed company converted to an observatory and equipped with a telescope and a spectrograph. The telescope was located behind the hatch in the side of the fuselage. The transit gateway ensured that the researchers would not blow out of the aircraft due to the pressure drop in the cockpit after the hatch was opened. Since the plane could climb above the layer of water vapor in the atmosphere, it could measure the amount of water vapor and ice in space. And the ice pellets were found: dust clouds, from which stars and planets are formed, contained water ice and the same complex molecules that were obtained in the laboratories of Leiden and Ames.

At a conference in Australia in 2010, I first heard about the multitude of molecules discovered by that time in interstellar space. The dinner at the conference was held on Magnitnaya Island off the east coast of Queensland. On the lawn of the restaurant between the spread tables, opossums were snooping around. About 200 astronomers have just finished their desserts, and Andrew Walsh, the conference organizer, spoke. Walsh is a short Australian with a small amount of hair on his head and a beard braided into two impressive braids. In addition to astronomy, he loves to brew beer.

“When I started my doctoral dissertation on astronomy, my father asked me:“ So what have you been doing all day? ”Walsh told us. “I read to him the title of my dissertation:“ Combining ultracompact H II regions and the emission of a methanol maser ”.His eyes glazed and I saw that his attention was getting weaker - until I said “methanol”. „Aha! - he said, - so, is there alcohol in space? Is there a beer there? “I explained that beer contains ethanol, not methanol. “Methanol is poison, dad,” I said. “If you drink a little of it, you will go blind.” If you drink more, you die. " Since then, my father has lost all interest in my work. I would like to correct this situation with the current presentation, which I called “Beer in Space” and dedicate to my father. ”

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Since the 1980s, astronomers have not only discovered some of the ingredients of beer in space, but also began preliminary searches for basic materials for life. Lou Alamandola returned to the United States in 1983, where he founded his own laboratory in Ames to continue the experiments he conducted in Leiden. “The list of substances we received in the laboratory is so long that even chemists find it boring. In the late 1980s, we wanted to know if we could make molecules that resemble the building blocks of living organisms. ” I ask Alamandolu whether it is difficult for him, a religious man, to combine his faith with the study of the origins of life. “Not at all,” he says. - Religion and science are different areas, each of which has great secrets. In addition, the chemistry I study is very far from the origins of life. ”

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“Of course, we have not created any living organisms,” says Alamandola. - You should always keep track of your words, otherwise people will understand everything wrong. Prebiotics, nutrient material ... In other words, the same building blocks that make up life. Man, and even one cell - an extremely complex construction of Lego. We found only a few individual Lego bricks, but not the entire structure. ” But they did find a huge variety of chemical building blocks under the microscope. In addition to amino acids, there were sugars, even nucleic acids , which form the basis of DNA. They also found elongated molecules that repel water on one side (hydrophobic) and easily bind to water on the other (hydrophilic). The cell membranes of the human body are made up of molecules of the same type.

As I speak of Alamandola, I become infected with enthusiasm like a journalist from Leidse Courant. They discovered that life is possible in space! Alamandola spreads her arms and gestures to me to calm down. “Ha-ha, Lucas,” he says, “nobody knows what life is. For her, there are about 500 different definitions. What we have found is irrelevant to life itself. We found only building blocks; how a living organism results from them is a completely different matter. ”

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Earth, most likely, began its development in the form of a hot ball of molten stone. About 4 billion years ago it cooled down sufficiently so that life began to appear on it. The oldest minerals found on Earth are bacteria that appeared around that time. Experiments with ice have shown that we can find in space and the basic materials necessary for these organisms. Could these molecules through the cosmic postal service to get to Earth after it cooled down? Panspermia , the hypothesis that life on Earth came from space, began to turn into an interesting possibility.

In 1989, Alamandola met with biochemist David Diemer. At that time, Dimer had a fragment of a meteorite falling in Australia. A huge piece of stone weighing 100 kg fell apart into small fragments in the atmosphere. Later, the fragments were analyzed in the laboratory. Meteorite Dimera showed the same structure, resembling cell walls, which created in the laboratory Alamandola. It was a remarkable discovery, showing that meteorites falling on Earth contain the basic materials needed for organisms. But the time for far-reaching conclusions has not yet come. “There are still people leaving the room, having heard the word“ biomarker ”- an indicator of life. I was just afraid to show some of our results, indicating that the building blocks of life may appear in meteorites. If I did it, at least for chemical,at least at an astronomical conference, my colleagues would have decided that I was crazy. ”

However, in the mid-1990s, astrobiology began to gain popularity. In 1996, Alamadola spoke at a symposium organized by NASA and SETI on the island of Capri, near the west coast of Italy. At the end of the presentation, he decided to show a slide showing the structures of the Dimer meteorite alongside those that came out of his laboratory. “The time has come,” he says to me. “People were ready to accept the idea that meteorites could deliver organic materials to Earth.”

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, one of the closest stars to the Earth. The oval is its light reflected from the ring of cosmic dust. Dust remains from comets and other space debris, randomly flying around. Every day, thousands of objects collide, break into small pieces and generate cosmic dust full of water and organic molecules. Large and small fragments eventually end up on the surface of young planets orbiting a young star. Fomalhaut's comet rain shows us how a late heavy bombardment could look.

Now we are learning more and more about these water-carrying projectiles in our solar system. In 2014, the Rosetta apparatus reached comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko . Fila's descent vehicle went to her. , , () . , , ( ). , , , — , , , 67 — . , .

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Such observations are encouraging in some planet hunters about the chances of life on exoplanets. In the end, the materials that make up the inhabitants of the earth, is in the young planetary systems. Cosmos is not a barren empty place described by Ludwig Von Drake; it is packed with the building blocks of organic life. These materials, dissolved in water, meteorites are constantly delivered to the surface of young planets. If the temperature is right and all the ingredients are present, time and evolution will do the rest. Perhaps it was precisely such reasoning that led the planetary hunter Stephen Vogt to the assertion that life on Zarmine was 100% complete .

But so far, how exactly the path is laid from the building blocks through chemical reactions to life itself remains unknown. We do not even know how it happened on Earth. Direct evidence — for example, early life forms — as far as we know, has largely disappeared from the face of the earth. It is impossible to single out one theory of the origin of life among others because of too many uncertainties. Therefore, it is impossible to use life on Earth as a scheme for the rest of the universe. Most planet hunters use a different approach to the question of the existence of extraterrestrial life. Imagine that on another planet from the same building blocks that we use on Earth and we see everywhere in space, a certain form of life has appeared.How exactly could we detect the existence of this form of life from Earth? How could we recognize signs of life on an exoplanet?

— , . : « : » [ Planet Hunters: The Search for Extraterrestial Life ].


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