The element nitrogen is the most abundant element on Earth.
Nearly one-third of the approximately 300 molecules found in the interstellar medium contain nitrogen.
Most of them carry only cyano (carbon-nitrogen triple bonds), while amines (nitrogen-containing compounds derived from ammonia) and imines (containing carbon-nitrogen double bonds) are relatively rare.
Understanding the origin of these less common nitrogen-containing molecular fractions in deep space is central to the origin-of-life hypothesis.
This is because all nucleobases (nitrogenous compounds) found in modern RNA and DNA contain amines and imines.
Recently, in a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from several institutions synthesized for the first time a key structural unit called methylene diamine (methane diamine).
They produced an interstellar “simulated ice” in the lab using ammonia and methylamine.
They exposed them to high-energy electrons that could act as galactic cosmic rays.
This simulated the environment inside the cold molecular cloud of the Milky Way.
Using this method, they found that methylenediamine was sublimated from this “simulated ice”.
This simulation of the cosmic space environment is still in its infancy, and more experiments will be needed to confirm it in the future.