Comets may hold the secret to finding alien life, according to new research.
Scientists at Cambridge University propose that comets may “bounce” around the universe, carrying the essential ingredients to create life on alien worlds.
If their theory is correct, it could help narrow down the search for exoplanets that have the correct conditions for a comet to deliver the building blocks of life.
“It’s possible that the molecules that led to life on Earth came from comets, so the same could be true for planets elsewhere in the galaxy,” said first author Richard Anslow from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.
Though it’s still not quite clear how life starts on a planet, a leading theory is that comets carry “prebiotic” molecules that can develop into life, provided they land safe and sound on the right planet.
To deliver their organic molecules, these comets need to travel fairly slowly, at about nine miles per second, per a press release accompanying the findings. The molecules will be destroyed if they are moved faster.
Scientists modeled different scenarios to see how planetary systems and their stars would pull at a traveling comet.
They looked specifically at systems that had rocky planets orbiting low mass stars — smaller stars than our sun. These types of planets have been studied as prime candidates to carry life.
The study found that, in most cases, a comet speeding through a planetary system around a low-mass star would travel too quickly to seed life on a planet in the habitable zone.
There is one notable exception: if the planet is part of a planetary system called “peas in a pod,” where the planets are in very close alignment, this string of planets could slow the comet down as it is captured in its orbit.
“It’s like kicking a football all the way across the football pitch in one massive shot versus dribbling it slowly with lots of different kicks between the players,” Amy Bonsor, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, told Insider.
” One way to reduce the speed is by having a lot of planets. Kick the ball around between the planets and then bring the ball down with the low velocity to a habitable planet.
However, Bonsor stated that the research indicates a lower-mass planet system has a lesser chance of supporting life than one with a more bright star. In these systems, planets can be farther away from their star, which means the comets don’t have to pick up quite so much speed to reach them.
“We’re all super excited in the community about the fact that we can find habitable zone planets around low-mass stars. She said that these planets are very interesting and should be studied.
Bonsor added that she’s not alone in saying that such planets may be less likely to be habitable than an Earth-like planet around a sun similar to ours.
The findings were published on Tuesday in the peer reviewed journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.
The post Comets that bounce around the universe could be delivering the ingredients for life to alien planets appeared first on Business Insider.