Scientists Unveil Cosmic Cookbook: Recipes for Life on Distant Planets

This guide, scientists believe, could narrow down the cosmos' likely spots where life's elusive ingredients mix and mingle.


In the quest to find life on distant planets, a team at the University of Wisconsin–Madison has combined science and culinary flair, unveiling a vast recipe book of chemical combinations that might birth life. This guide, they believe, could narrow down the cosmos’ likely spots where life’s elusive ingredients mix and mingle.

Ingredients for Life: Beyond Earth’s Menu

The universe might be vast, but when it comes to life’s chemical building blocks, options could be limited. This team’s groundbreaking study taps into this idea, suggesting that while life elsewhere may not mirror Earth, there’s a universal chemical language.

Betül Kaçar, a NASA-backed astrobiologist and professor at UW–Madison, simplifies the concept, explaining, “Life is essentially chemistry. It requires the right elements and repeated reactions to cultivate a self-sustaining, self-replicating system.”

Autocatalysis: Nature’s Chain Reaction

The magic word in this scientific culinary journey is autocatalysis. Essentially, these are chemical reactions that fuel further similar reactions. Zhen Peng, from the Kaçar lab, alongside his colleagues, discovered 270 molecular mixtures from across the periodic table capable of powering such autocatalytic processes.

Surprising even the researchers, Kaçar points out, “Previously, we believed such reactions were uncommon. Our findings reveal otherwise. You only need to know where to look.”


Cracking the Recipe: Comproportionation Reactions

The team honed in on a specific type: comproportionation reactions. These see two compounds, sharing an element but in varying reactive states, merge to form a new compound—a sort of chemical equilibrium. The real trick? For it to be autocatalytic, the resultant compound should kickstart the original reaction, creating a loop.

Zach Adam, a study co-author and UW–Madison geoscientist, likens it to a chain reaction. “Once the cycle begins and conditions are favorable, the reactions self-amplify, growing exponentially.”

Picture autocatalysis as a bunny boom: a few rabbits reproduce, their offspring do the same, and soon, there’s a proliferation. Although, looking for alien bunnies might not be our best bet. Instead, Kaçar envisions the study’s recipes being tested under simulated space conditions.

Rewinding Cosmic Clocks and Baking Intergalactic Pies

While retracing the exact events leading to life on Earth remains impossible, Kaçar believes recreating varied planetary settings in labs can offer valuable insights. “We may never witness Earth’s first spark of life, but experimenting with these cosmic recipes can offer glimpses into how life might arise elsewhere.”

Leading the NASA-endorsed MUSE consortium, Kaçar’s team will primarily focus on reactions involving elements like molybdenum and iron. Still, the vast recipe book promises myriad possibilities.


Echoing Carl Sagan’s words, Kaçar concludes, “To truly grasp the universe’s grandeur, perhaps we need to cook up some cosmic pies.”

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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