Astronomers first discovered complex carbon compounds at star sites

Original author: Blaine Friedlander
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Hunting at a distance of 27 thousand light-years brought astronomers prey in the form of a sudden discovery of a carbon-based molecule - such with a branching structure - in a giant gas cloud in interstellar space. As if having discovered a molecular needle in a stack of cosmic hay, astronomers have detected the radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide. This discovery means that the complex molecules necessary for the origin of life can be of interstellar origin.

With the Atakama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Grid, known as the ALMA Observatory (a group of radio telescopes funded in part throughNational Science Foundation), scientists studied the gas region of the formation of the new star Sagittarius B2.

Astronomers from Cornell, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Cologne (Germany) described their discovery in the journal Science on September 26th.

Organic molecules commonly found in star formation regions consist of one “string” of carbon atoms bonded into a single chain. But the carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide is branched, making it the first discovery of this kind of molecule in outer space, says Rob Garrod, a senior fellow at the Cornell University Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.

This discovery broadens the notion of the complexity of molecules that can arise in interstellar space and can, in the end, find their way to the surface of planets, says Garrod. The branching structure of isopropyl cyanide is a common property of molecules necessary for the initiation of life, such as amino acids, which, in turn, are the building blocks for proteins. This news adds arguments to the idea that biologically important molecules like amino acids, which are usually found in meteorites, arise at the very beginning of the process of star nucleation - even earlier than planets like Earth.

Garod, along with lead author Arnaud Belloche and Karl Menten, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Holger Muller of the University of Cologne, studied the chemical composition of the Sagittarius B2 region, located near the center of the Milky Way galaxy and rich in complex organic molecules of interstellar origin .

ALMA allowed scientists to conduct a full spectral analysis in search of traces of new molecules with a sensitivity and resolution 10 times higher than previous studies.

The ALMA Observatory was created to study the origin of space objects using 66 sensitive radio antennas located in the high-altitude region with dry air of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. These radio telescopes together form a giant "eye" peering into space.

“Understanding how organic material arises in the early stages of star nucleation is critical to creating a complete picture of the gradual transformation of simple molecules into potentially life-bearing compounds,” says Belloche.

About 50 unique traits inherent to isopropyl cyanide (and 120 to ordinary n-propyl cyanide, a sister molecule with a straight chain of carbon) were found by ALMA in the Sagittarius B2 region. These two molecules - isopropyl cyanide and n-propyl cyanide - are also the largest molecules ever discovered in any of the star formation regions.

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