How broccoli gas advances the search for life in space

Rich in fiber, rich in vitamins, rich in potassium, broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable with multiple benefits. And if, by the way, it is highly valued for its taste, it seems that it can also be… useful! As unusual as it may seem, the gases it produces could actually have the ability to aid science in its search for another form of life in space. Broccoli is definitely good.

Broccoli, a vegetable with methylated gases

To expel their toxins, some plants and microorganisms emit gases. A phenomenon that is especially found in broccoli, explains researchers from the University of Riverside, California. Thus, to design said gases, the organisms in question add one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms to another chemical element considered to be “undesirable”. This process, called “methylation,” can then convert the toxins into gases that no longer pose a hazard in the atmosphere. “But what does this have to do with the search for extraterrestrial life?”, you’re probably wondering.

Two super-Earth exoplanets discovered 33 light years away

Methyl gas, a key indicator of the existence of life

If scientists are interested in these methylated gases – identical to those produced by broccoli, it is because their presence in space could very strongly suggest the existence of extraterrestrial life! “Methylation is so widespread on Earth that we would expect the existence of life everywhere else to also imply its presence (…) Most cells have mechanisms to expel harmful substances,” reports Michaela Leung, planetary scientist at UCR .

Why is science interested in methyl gases?

As explained by the team of scientists who worked on the study, the presence of methylated gases in space could therefore easily be linked to the presence of another form of life. But why do these gases interest the scientific community more than other gases?

Quite simply because methylated gases, such as methyl bromide specifies the University of Riverside, have the peculiarity of stagnating in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than most other gases. Therefore, if we manage to detect the presence of a methylated gas somewhere – and why not in space – it means that there is a good chance that it was produced recently, but also, and rather than all that the organization that created it still exists.

However, beware of jumping to conclusions, the researchers say, because while methyl bromide is generally more likely to be formed by something living, it could also be the product of a volcano or other geological process.

Mars: what were the discoveries of the Curiosity rover, ten years after its landing on the red planet?

A gas that is difficult to detect because of the sun

“Methyl bromide absorbs light near a ‘cousin’ biosignature, methyl chloride, making both parts and the presence of life easier to find,” says the report, published on the university’s website. At least in appearance! Because if the presence of methyl bromide is frequent on Earth, it is not easy to detect it in the atmosphere. And this because of the Sun’s UV rays, since the latter has the effect of triggering “chemical reactions that break the water molecules in the atmosphere and thus divide them into products that split the gas”.

If the Sun makes the task much more complicated, the study specifies that in an environment exposed to an M dwarf star, smaller and colder than the Sun, the traceable concentration of methyl bromide would be multiplied by four! “This is an advantage for astronomers because M-dwarfs are more than ten times more frequent than stars like our Sun and will be the first targets for future searches for life on exoplanets”, assure the researchers. Good news then!

Also read:

What to know about Jupiter

5 unusual things to know about Neptune

5 unusual things to know about Neptune

Moon cycle: what are the different phases of the moon?

Moon cycle: what are the different phases of the moon?

Leave a Comment