Presentation Open Access

Phosphorus in the interstellar medium: the missing prebiotic element

Rivilla Victor M.


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    <subfield code="a">&lt;p&gt;Phosphorus (P) is a crucial element for prebiotic chemistry and for the&lt;br&gt;
development of life in the Universe. It is one of the key components of deoxyri-&lt;br&gt;
bonucleic acid (DNA), phospholipids (the structural components of all cellular&lt;br&gt;
membranes) and the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule, from which all&lt;br&gt;
forms of life assume energy. The Chemistry Nobel Prize Sir Alexander Todd remarked the astrobiological importance of P when he said: &amp;rsquo;Where there&amp;rsquo;s life,&lt;br&gt;
there&amp;rsquo;s phosphorus&amp;rsquo;. For these reasons, the study of interstellar phosphorus is&lt;br&gt;
generating increasing interest in the last years. It is mandatory its study in&lt;br&gt;
star-forming regions, where stars, planets (and eventually life) are expected to&lt;br&gt;
arise. However, our knowledge about P in the interstellar medium is still very&lt;br&gt;
poor. For this, our group started several observational and theoretical projects&lt;br&gt;
to study P-bearing species in star-forming regions. In my talk I will present the&lt;br&gt;
the first detections of P-O - key chemical bond to build-up the DNA double&lt;br&gt;
helix - towards two star-forming regions, and multiple detections of PN towards&lt;br&gt;
a large sample of massive dense cores. The observed molecular abundances&lt;br&gt;
indicates that P is significantly more abundant in star-forming regions than&lt;br&gt;
previously thought. I will also show the results of recent ALMA and IRAM 30m&lt;br&gt;
telescope observations of selected massive cores in the Galactic Disk and several&lt;br&gt;
clouds in the Galactic Center, which suggest that shocks may have a key role&lt;br&gt;
to sputtering P from grain mantles and to explain the observed abundances of&lt;br&gt;
P-bearing molecules in the gas-phase. All these findings are helping us to attain&lt;br&gt;
a much better understanding about the unknown chemistry of P in space.&lt;/p&gt;</subfield>
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