Carl Sagan, during his famous “Cosmo” show, once said that we are all made of stellar matter. He was not wrong, and today we know even a little more: the stars themselves are made of basic elements of the universe. One of these components is ethanolamine, a molecule essential for human life.
The fact that in the abyss of deep space, among the clouds of gas and dust that compose it, there are substances that make our existence possible is nothing new. We have known for years that almost 97% of the human body is made up of matter from those borders that open beyond our little blue planet.
Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur… As the controversial mystic and alchemist Aleister Crowley once pointed out, there is a star in each of us. However, it should be noted that, in reality, in each of us there are the same materials that the universe itself is made of. We are now much more certain thanks to a recent discovery.
What is ethanolamine and why is it so important?
Ethanolamine is an organic chemical compound of great importance for life on Earth. This molecule integrates four of the six basic chemical elements for human existence and every living being: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. But it doesn’t stop there, because ethanolamine in turn forms another type of molecule, phospholipids, which make up all cell membranes.
This last information is decisive for understanding its importance: thanks to these cell walls, the genetic material and all the internal elements of the cell remain protected.
Ethanolamine and the theory of panspermia
The theory of panspermia tells us that the origin of life was possible thanks to the arrival of external components on Earth. In other words, everything that we are and that surrounds us is the result of organic molecules that arrived in the past through the fall of various meteorites.
This idea was reinforced by a discovery made a few weeks ago. A study published by the journal PNAS speaks of a decisive discovery by an international scientific group led by Víctor M. Rivilla of the Center for Astrobiology (CAB, CSIC-INTA). Astronomers have discovered clouds of ethanolamine in deep space.
Deep space and clouds of molecules
Thanks to powerful telescopes, it was possible to observe spectra of ethanolamine 100,000 light years from us, in an area of deep space inhabited by a cold molecular cloud that astronomers have called G + 0.693-0.027. This is where they discovered this crucial and indispensable molecule.
The slow but constant collisions of masses of gas and dust generate surprising chemical reactions. These reactions produce ethanolamine thanks to the simplest combinations in which oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon are integrated.
This compound synthesized in a distant and cold area of our universe arrived on Earth in a primordial state by means of a meteorite.
According to the authors of the study, nearly one trillion liters of ethanolamine would have arrived through various impacts on our planet. This amount would be very similar to the amount of water contained in Lake Victoria in Africa.
So, is life born on Earth or outside of it?
When trying to explain the origin of the Earth, many scientists opt for the panspermia theory. However, much of the community of experts insists that everything we know is part of the earth’s inorganic matter, when water vapor began to condense more than 4.5 billion years ago.
However, we cannot even rule out the hypothesis of molecular panspermia, that according to which certain components such as ethanolamine have reached us by traveling on asteroids. In addition, several meteorites composed of various types of molecules have been found in Australia and Antarctica.
Now, beyond what was the origin of life, there are far more important questions to ask. As Stephen Hawking once said, we are basically nothing more than a race of apes on a minor planet inhabiting a very normal star. However, yes, we have great power. We have a curious mind that asks questions and seeks answers.
We try in every way to make sense of what we call “intelligent life”. Let us make sure that our knowledge serves to make us a species that is respectful of itself and of a planet of which, after all, we are only guests.