Scientists have found the beginnings of life-bearing chemistry at the centre of the galaxy. Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth.
I can’t figure out what that gunk is on my wall and we have scientists that are not only studying, but are able to identify chemicals at the center of our galaxy 27,000 light-years away.
What makes this discovery so amazing is that i-propyl cyanide is the first molecules that have been discovered with a branched carbon backbone. Carbon is one of the basic fundamental building blocks of complex life.
The discovery suggests the building blocks of life may be widespread throughout our galaxy.
Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone.
The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.
I-propyl cyanide isn’t the first chemical scientists have found in this cloud of dust but it is the most complex so far.
According to Dr Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy is lead author of the research, “Our goal is to search for new complex organic molecules in the interstellar medium. The idea is to know whether the elements that are necessary for life to occur… can be found in other places in our galaxy.”
As stars are born in the cloud they heat up microscopic dust grains. Chemical reactions on the surface of the dust allow complex molecules like i-propyl cyanide to form.
The molecules emit radiation that was detected as radio waves by twenty 12m telescopes at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) in Chile.
Each molecule produces a different “spectral fingerprint” of frequencies. “The game consists in matching these frequencies… to molecules that have been characterised in the laboratory,” explained Dr Belloche.
Previously discovered molecules in the Sagittarius B2 cloud include vinyl alcohol and ethyl formate, the chemical that gives raspberries their flavour and rum its smell.
But i-propyl cyanide is the largest and most complex organic molecule found to date – and the only one to share the branched atomic backbone of amino acids.
Just stop and think about that for a minute. The chemicals that give raspberries their flavor and rum its smell are chemicals that were born in the space dust from exploding stars. Remember that the next time you’re getting tanked on raspberry infused rum, you’re drinking up some pretty cool ass elements of the Universe.