Finding Extraterrestrial Life: Can bacteria exist in molecular clouds

Chinese astronomer Lei Feng published an article in which he proposed a very exotic place to search for extraterrestrial life. In his opinion, it can originate in dense molecular clouds.

A molecular cloud in the Orion nebula. Source: Astrobin

Molecular clouds are sometimes called stellar cradles. These are areas with a sufficiently high density of matter so that molecules can form there, primarily hydrogen as well as some other compounds, including carbon monoxide. And this is exactly what methane bacteria use for life. They combine carbon dioxide with hydrogen. As a result, a chemical reaction occurs, during which energy is released. Its products are water and methane.

There is also an alternative. Living beings can use carbon monoxide or acetylene in a similar reaction. Thus, there are several possible chemical ways that a hypothetical methane-based life form could use to generate energy.

The main problem with life in molecular clouds is related to temperature. It can reach -263 °C. It’s very cold even for terrestrial extremophiles. Besides, there is no hard surface.

But, according to Lei Feng, this is not necessarily an insurmountable limitation. According to him, the key factor in life is fluid, which is used by cells for metabolism. In the case of earthly life, it is water. However, hydrogen can be used as its analogue in molecular clouds. It is known that hydrogen molecules retain a liquid state in the range of -252 °C to -258 °C. And this is the typical temperature of molecular clouds.

As the author noted, carbon dioxide exists in solid form in a molecular cloud. Hypothetical life can be attached to these grains. According to the calculations of the Chinese scientist, a dense molecular cloud should contain enough free energy for the survival of methanogens.

At the moment, all of this is just a speculative concept. But it can be checked. The presence of methanogens will dramatically change the chemical balance of the molecular cloud. And if astronomers manage to find a cloud with an exceptionally high amount of methane, this may indicate that we are facing a home for extraterrestrial life.

If we assume that similar life could originate in the cloud from which the Solar System was formed, it would certainly “like” the primary atmosphere of the Earth. Moreover, its descendants may still live to this day on Europa and Titan.

According to

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