First detection of the simplest organic acid in the protoplanetary disk surrounding a Sun-like young star
Our current understanding is that the crucial phase of planetary formation occurs within the so-called protoplanetary disks that are analogs of the birth site of our own Solar System. As a matter of fact, the chemical composition of these disks shape the properties of emerging planets along with their primitive atmospheres, as well as the composition of comets and asteroids. In the context of an Interstellar-Earth connection, and in particular the early Earth bombardment by the small bodies of the Solar System (comets and asteroids), it is noteworthy that prebiotic molecules, that might have made possible the appearance of life on Earth, were likely already present in the protoplanetary disk.
Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA ; Chile), an international group of astronomers have reported the first detection of formic acid, HCOOH, towards the TW Hydrae protoplanetary disk located at only 190 light years from our Sun.
Formic acid, whose name derives from its abundant presence in terrestrial ants, is the simplest acid. “The latter contains a carboxylic group (-COOH), which stands as the basis for synthesis of more complex carboxylic and amino acids used by life on Earth”, said study lead author Dr. Cécile Favre. More specifically, this species is involved in a chemical route leading to glycine, the simplest amino acid, the basis of many proteins.
First detection of the simplest organic acid in a protoplanetary disk, Favre et al., Astrophysical journal letters, 862, L2 (2018). DOI:10.3847/2041-8213/aad046
This article has been published by
L’Istituto nazionale di astrofisica (INAF)
 The team is composed of : Cécile Favre (INAF-OAA, Italy), Davide Fedele (INAF-OAA, Italy), Dmitry Semenov (MPIA and LMU Munich, Germany), Sergey Parfenov (Ural Federal University, Russia), Claudio Codella (INAF-OAA, Italy), Cecilia Ceccarelli (IPAG, France), Edwin A. Bergin (University of Michigan, USA), Edwige Chapillon (IRAM and LAB, France), Leonardo Testi (ESO and Excellence Cluster Universe ; and INAF-OAA, Italy), Franck Hersant (LAB, France), Bertrand Lefloch (IPAG, France), Francesco Fontani (INAF-OAA, Italy), Geoffrey A. Blake (Caltech, USA), L. Ilsedore Cleeves (CFA, USA), Chunhua Qi (CFA, USA), Kamber R. Schwarz (University of Michigan, USA) and Vianney Taquet (INAF-OAA, Italy).