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Advanced Cosmic Ice Research

Advanced Cosmic Ice Research Reveals Information About How Life Began

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Perry Gerakines and his colleagues in the Cosmic Ice Lab at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt are working on something very simple – ice – but in a truly extraordinary way.  Gerakines not just making regular ice or snow flakes, but a microscopically thin cosmic ice, which requires intense cold and extremely low pressure, to create. His creation is unique and can reproduce some of the most critical chemical reactions in space thereby allowing us to learn on how life first began.

Reggie Hudson, head of the Cosmic Ice Lab remarks that this is not high school chemistry, but bitter cold chemistry in extreme conditions of pressure and exposure to intense radiation.  Researchers world-wide have been given this exclusive opportunity to study the ‘mega cool’ formation of cosmic ice using a particle accelerator that could mimic the cosmic radiation that drives such reactions. This offers valuable information on the chemistry of ice under the surface of moons and planets alike.

The recipe created by Gerakines involves pumping out air to a level that is a billion times lower than normal for our planet, chilled to 433 degree Fahrenheit. During this phase, molecules are altered instantly from their gaseous state into the rebellious solid called “amorphous ice”. These crystals are widespread in interstellar space, especially in comets and icy moons.

Gerakines spikes this amorphous ice with amino acids (glycine, alanine or phenylalanine), the main ingredients for life on Earth and finally bombards the ice with radiation energy using a proton beam. It is clear that the OH group generated acts as a radiation shield, absorbing tons of proton energy.  Surprisingly, the acids last longer at higher temperatures. This conclusion clearly supports the view that amino acids could last longer at extreme radiation and depth. 

By April Holloway

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