"Comet - C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) - Artist Concept" by NASA / Public Domain

A rare chemical that helped DNA form may have come to Earth on comets from newborn stars, astronomers find

Jan 21, 2020

By Morgan McFall-Johnsen

Phosphorus, an element that’s key in forming DNA and fueling life on Earth, may have first arrived on the planet via comets from newborn stars.

Since the element is extremely rare in the universe, its presence on Earth has been a long-standing mystery. But scientists at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) now suggest that phosphorus may have first arrived on Earth in the molecule phosphorus monoxide – phosphorus bonded with one oxygen molecule.

Their research, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on Wednesday, reveals that phosphorus monoxide forms amid the birth of new stars. They also found the molecule in a comet circling Jupiter: a frozen ball of rock and ice called 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, or “67P” for short.

The discovery suggests comets could have carried phosphorus monoxide to Earth.

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