Personal tools
Log in
You are here: Home Research Activities Sun and Solar System The Planets and minor bodies in the Solar System and other stellar systems Future developments in planetology research in Italy.

Astrobiology

The origin, evolution and distribution of life in the Universe is one of the scientific themes in which national and international interest have steadily grown. Astrobiology collects knowledge from disciplines that have, until now, been considered distinct, making them converge synergistically in order to achieve new scientific goals. The presence of life on Earth is directly correlated both with the origin and evolution of the Solar System and the initial conditions present in the interstellar molecular cloud from which our planet originated. Life, as it is on Earth, originated from complex reactions based on carbon chemistry, probably the result of interactions of organic molecules with inert material.
In this scenario, mechanisms of transport and protection of biotic material and living organisms, such as bacterial spores, on terrestrial surfaces or those of other planets like Mars, have an increasing importance. These are important in the consideration of meteoritic impacts and cometary grains. Comets are, in fact, the most primordial bodies in the Solar System, and their study can provide important information on the formation of the Solar System itself. In addition, they may have played an essential role in the appearance of life on Earth, depositing, about 4 billion years ago, the organic material from which life later formed. For this reason, the study of organic material in comets is one of the more interesting lines of research, given also the success of the NASA Stardust probe.
Another important aspect is concerned with the study of galactic habitability, that is, the link between the physical/chemical conditions within a certain region of a galaxy, and the probability that, in that region, a form of life with which we are familiar could be born and develop.

Although astrobiology in Italy is still in its infancy, it has already demonstrated the ability to attract the interest of the scientific community all over the Italian territory, and is in continual growth. The Italian scientific community has shown the ability to develop lines of research based on expertise from culturally different environments such as biology, genetics, chemistry and astrophysics. At the Department of Evolutionary Biology at theUniversity of Florence and the Department of Astronomy and Space Science, molecular studies into the process of absorption of nucleotide bases (A,C,T,U), nucleotides, oligonucleotides and ribosomes, on phyllosilicate, argillaceous, carbonaceous chondrites (Murchison meteorite) and analogous cosmic dust (CDA), with subsequent analysis of the chemo-physical and biological characteristics of the complexes obtained, are being carried out. Another, parallel, aspect of the problem, independently developed at the University of Padova and INAF-OAPd, is the survival to the current epoch of life forms, or their precursors, that could have formed in planetary environments now altered by evolution.
Rather than simulate the conditions of primordial life, currently no longer present and anyway difficult to identify and reproduce, some studies have posed the practical question of whether it is possible to find today, forms of life that have survived in ecological nicheson planets like Mars or on Europa, whose environmental conditions are markedly different from those assumed for the origin of life. Since 2004, the INAF-OAPa group has studied the effects of soft, stellar-type X-rays on organic molecules, such as DNA and aminoacids. In parallel with this experimental activity, at INAF-OAPa, a new section of the XACT (Xray Astronomy Calibration and Testing) laboratory is nearing completion, a UHV (UltraHigh Vacuum) room, that will be dedicated to Astrobiology. The "Laboratory of Experimental Astrophysics" (LASp at INAF-OACt) has been active for more than twentyfive years. The group is involved with interdisciplinary research into the effects produced by the interaction of fast ions (10-400 keV) and ultraviolet photons (Lyman-a 121.6 nm =10.2 eV) with targets of astrophysical interest. The aim is to study experimentally the chemo-physical modifications in solid targets (silicates, carbonaceous minerals, ices) with energetic ion beams and/or ultraviolet photons. The studies of galactic habitability carried out at INAF-OATs are are aimed at establishing a link between the physical/chemical conditions in a certain region of a galaxy and the probability that, in that region, a form of life with which we are familiar could be born and develop. A knowledge of the rate of planet formation, and its spatial and temporal evolution within the Galaxy, is fundamental for the studies of habitability. The scope of the research is to shed light on the efficiency of planet formation at the lower metellicities typical of the first stages of galactic evolution. It has also been found that cosmic dust plays an important role in the formation of molecular compounds fundamental for prebiotic chemistry active in the first evolutionary phases of the Earth. Because of the low efficiency of the synthesis of complex molecules in the gas phase, studies are being conducted at INAF-OAAr and the Department of Astronomy and Space Science, into the processes of formation of macro-molecules at cryogenic temperatures, on the surface of dust grains, with a composition and morphology similar to those observed in the chondritic and porous IDPs.de

ALMA shed light on the chemical composition of a protoplanetary disk

Oct 09, 2020

ALMA shed light on the chemical composition of a protoplanetary disk The team led by Linda Podio, a researcher at INAF, observed a protoplanetary disk of less than 1 million years, which is almost edge-on. The edge-on geometry allowed observing the vertical structure of the disk and to resolve distinct chemical layers. The images obtained thanks to ALMA revealed emission from several molecules. One of these is methanol, a key molecule for the formation of the so-called “complex organic molecules”