The building blocks of life are abundant in our universe. Organic, life-forming chemicals are common in giant molecular clouds throughout deep space. The fact that life arose here on Earth is testament to the fact that other places will harbor it, too. It seems apparent that complex and self-replicating living systems exist elsewhere on the planets of moons of other solar systems yet to be detected.

Dense molecular clouds have been identified in deep space. Located 6,500 light-years away, the majestic Eagle Nebula or M16-the now famous "Pillars of Creation" photographed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990s-contains over 1 million atoms per cubic inch.

(Aside: If you examine the photograph of the Pillars of Creation pictured in the online Wikipedia article titled "Eagle Nebula", our solar system, if added to the image for scale, would appear as a dot smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. The pillars are 2-3 light years long!)

While the term "dense" is used loosely here, astronomers consider dense molecular clouds to be the breeding grounds for the chemicals of life.

While the guts of the Eagle Nebula may be extremely cold, such a high vacuum environment does not get in the way of producing life's building blocks and other things.

Inside the nebula, ice particles act like Velcro when it comes to atoms and molecules. They sweep up debris and, in turn, are exposed to intense ultraviolet radiation from young stars awakening within parts of the cloud; ice particles are a medium for highly reactive chemical events.

Eventually, large molecules accumulate in the cloud as gravity helps collapse the molecules into vast protoplanetary disks. Then a rain of organic compounds contributes to the mounting inventory of life-forming materials. As the rain progresses the rate of organic synthesis skyrockets. This is exactly the way our solar system formed; on Earth the organic rain met the right conditions and then life arose, emerging first from deep inside our planet's crust.

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