Artist's impression of the Herschel Space Observatory
Astronomers have found evidence that the Orion nebula (a nearby stellar nursery) contains chemicals consistent with early life. The researchers used the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) on board the Herschel Space Observatory (launched in 2009) to detect infrared light coming from the Orion nebula. The light in turn was subjected to spectrum analysis, which told the scientists what kinds of molecules were present in the nebula.
Among the chemicals found were several molecules that are necessary precursors of life, including water, carbon monoxide, methanol and sulfur dioxide.