News of the WeekORIGIN OF LIFE

Did Twisty Starlight Set Stage for Life?

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Science  31 Jul 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5377, pp. 626-627
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5377.626b

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A report on page 672 describes the first evidence of a possible space-borne mechanism for the origins of life on Earth, along with a possible answer for why nearly all the amino acids in proteins are "left-handed," a designation for one of two mirror-image configurations of atoms around a carbon center. A team at the Anglo-Australian Observatory near Sydney has spotted circularly polarized infrared light--which can selectively destroy either left- or right-handed amino acids, depending on the direction of spin--streaming from a region of intense star birth in the Orion Nebula. If similar radiation bathed the dust around our newborn sun 5 billion years ago, these space-borne amino acids might have set the pattern for ones made later on Earth.