Friday, March 28, 2008

New Organic Molecule Discovered in Space

Art by Vaughn Bode and Larry Todd
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn have detected for the first time a molecule closely related to an amino acid: amino acetonitrile. The organic molecule was found in the "Large Molecule Heimat", a giant gas cloud near the galactic centre in the constellation Sagittarius.
The « Large Molecule Heimat » is a very dense, hot gas clump within the star forming region Sagittarius B2. In this source of only 0.3 light-year diameter, which is heated by a deeply embedded newly formed star, most of the interstellar molecules known to date have been found, including the most complex ones such as ethyl alcohol, formaldehyde, formic acid, acetic acid, glycol aldehyde (a basic sugar), and ethylene glycol.

Starting from 1965, more than 140 molecular species have been detected in space, in interstellar clouds as well as in circumstellar envelopes. A large fraction of these molecules is organic or carbon-based. A lot of attention is given to the quest for so-called "bio"-molecules, especially interstellar amino acids. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and therefore key ingredients for the origin of life, have been found in meteorites on Earth, but not yet in interstellar space.

Amino acetonitrile (NH2CH2CN)
The simplest amino acid, glycine (NH2CH2COOH), has long been searched for in the interstellar medium but has so far not been unambiguously detected. Since the search for glycine has turned out to be extremely difficult, a chemically related molecule was searched for, amino acetonitrile (NH2CH2CN), probably a direct precursor of glycine.

"Finding amino acetonitrile has greatly extended our insight into the chemistry of dense, hot star-forming regions. I am sure we will be able to identify in the future many new, even more complex organic molecules in the interstellar gas. We already have several candidates!" says Karl Menten, director at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy. link

Just as long as they don't find, "The Green Slime"....!