Super-complex organic molecules found in interstellar space

Jun 21, 2010
Image of the anthracene band recently identified in the Perseus star formation region by researchers from the IAC and the University of Texas. This molecule is formed by three hexagonal rings of carbon atoms surrounded by hydrogen atoms. Credit: Gaby Perez and Susana Iglesias-Groth

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of scientists from the Instituto Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of Texas has succeeded in identifying one of the most complex organic molecules yet found in the material between the stars, the so-called interstellar medium. The discovery of anthracene could help resolve a decades-old astrophysical mystery concerning the production of organic molecules in space. The researchers report their findings in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

'We have detected the presence of anthracene molecules in a dense cloud in the direction of the star Cernis 52 in Perseus, about 700 light years from the Sun,' explains Susana Iglesias Groth, the IAC researcher heading the study.

In her opinion, the next step is to investigate the presence of amino acids. Molecules like anthracene are prebiotic, so when they are subjected to ultraviolet radiation and combined with water and ammonia, they could produce amino acids and other compounds essential for the development of life

'Two years ago,' says Iglesias, 'we found proof of the existence of another organic molecule, naphthalene, in the same place, so everything indicates that we have discovered a star formation region rich in prebiotic chemistry.' Until now, anthracene had been detected only in meteorites and never in the interstellar medium. Oxidized forms of this molecule are common in living systems and are biochemically active. On our planet, oxidized anthracene is a basic component of aloe and has anti-inflammatory properties.

The new finding suggests that a good part of the key components in terrestrial prebiotic chemistry could be present in interstellar matter.

Since the 1980s, hundreds of bands found in the spectrum of the , known as diffuse spectroscopic bands, have been known to be associated with interstellar matter, but their origin has not been identified until now. This discovery indicates that they could result from molecular forms based on anthracene or naphthalene. Since they are widely distributed in , they might have played a key role in the production of many of the present at the time of the formation of the Solar System.

The results are based on observations carried out at the William Herschel Telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands and with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas in the United States.

Explore further: Image: Galactic wheel of life shines in infrared

More information: The new work appears in the paper “Anthracene cations toward the Perseus molecular complex", S. Iglesias Groth S., Manchado A., Rebolo R., González J. I., García Hernández A. (IAC); Lambert D. L. (McDonald Observatory, University of Texas), Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press. A preprint of the paper can be seen at arxiv.org/abs/1005.4388

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User comments : 27

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jselin
4 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2010
Does anyone know what the two black dots are in that closeup image? Actually theres a third but much smaller one to the left as well.
mysticshakra
Jun 21, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Skeptic_Heretic
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 21, 2010
Drip, drip, drip, the anouncement of ET life draws nigh.

We already know ET exists. Question is, what does he look like and how advanced is he.
ArtflDgr
Jun 21, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gunslingor1
5 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2010
Does anyone know what the two black dots are in that closeup image? Actually theres a third but much smaller one to the left as well.


In the physical telescope, they cover/blackout near/bright stars to provide better resolution of the target object. 90% sure that is what this is.
GSwift7
4 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2010
"William Herschel Telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands"

Say that three times fast.

I know what ET looks like. I'm prety sure I was married to one of them. :)

Seriously, I wonder what the level of confidence in this observation actually is. If I'm reading this right, there is at least some amount of interpretation, such as the way we estimate the distance to distant stars with variable stars.

Parsec
5 / 5 (6) Jun 21, 2010
Molecules are the answer of every each science not getting practical finished, mean STRATO divorce GROUP. Theoretic to be read downunder my blog.


Please repost this in readable English. I have NO idea what you said here. Please do not take offense if English is not a familiar language to you.
zslewis91
4.6 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2010
"We already know ET exists"?!?!?!?! who is we? and wheres is your our their proof. prove it without a shadow of doubt...your mathmatics will not help you. and you cant prove such a thing...dont get me wrong, i find it to be obvious too...but to state it as fact is just silly.
Rohitasch
2.8 / 5 (8) Jun 21, 2010
Its evidence of an alien civilization, of course! This civilization probably believes in some ayurvedic type "medicinal" system and have probably injected loads of this stuff into space to stop the "swelling" of the universe. Solutions like these are common in some cultures on our own planet. Honestly.
fishfunction
Jun 21, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Hunnter
3 / 5 (3) Jun 22, 2010
Of course it is wrong to say as fact that we know there is other life outside of "our" little planet, but it is extremely unlikely that there isn't life out there, unless our knowledge of the universe is in fact wrong.

But considering how we have used most sections of said knowledge to do pretty huge things, even leaving the standard planetary orbit area of our star with a satellite, the chances of that knowledge being incorrect are unlikely too. (well, most of it at least)

Skeptic_Heretic
3.2 / 5 (6) Jun 22, 2010
"We already know ET exists"?!?!?!?! who is we? and wheres is your our their proof. prove it without a shadow of doubt...your mathmatics will not help you. and you cant prove such a thing...dont get me wrong, i find it to be obvious too...but to state it as fact is just silly.

We're realtively certain of how abiogenesis could work on several differeing methodologies. We've proved that one of these processes is and was quite possible on Earth. Considering the numbers of stars and planets to say that life will only be found on earth is utterly retarded. The law of large numbers states that it must be true, that is unless oyu know of some boundary ocndition that makes us special. Well, do you?
frajo
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 22, 2010
The law of large numbers states that it must be true
(Un)fortunately this law doesn't state whether we'll ever meet.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (9) Jun 22, 2010
We're realtively certain of how abiogenesis could work on several differeing methodologies. We've proved that one of these processes is and was quite possible on Earth. Considering the numbers of stars and planets to say that life will only be found on earth is utterly retarded. The law of large numbers states that it must be true, that is unless oyu know of some boundary ocndition that makes us special.


So what are you saying, Skeptic - that you now have certainty that life arose spontaneously?

Which process[es] are you talking about and why isn't the popular press flooded with news that the scientists have discovered how life arose on earth?

Can you enlighten us as to exactly how life started out from purely chemical means on earth?

Please do.
kevinrtrs
1.6 / 5 (14) Jun 22, 2010
Considering the numbers of stars and planets to say that life will only be found on earth is utterly retarded


Considering that the same chemical properties and physical processes need to be overcome in all of those quantillions of planets, it is not as retarded as you might think.

You still need to overcome the chemical barriers of activation energy and the right-handed and left-handedness of the amino acids and sugars that make up the DNA molecule. Doesn't matter where in the universe you are. You still need to encapsulate all of the cell's contents within a very special membrane at the right temperature whilst excluding the poisons to the outside.
You still need to kickstart the whole process called LIFE even when you have all the ingredients. You do know that secular history records firmly that nothing that has died has ever come back to life spontaneously, all by itself? Even though all the ingredients for life was present?

So how DID life arise on earth?
LKD
1.5 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
So would I be horribly off-base to consider that the space rocks found in the Arctic were not from Mars, but possibly from space? It opens an interesting possibility.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (5) Jun 22, 2010
Considering that the same chemical properties and physical processes need to be overcome in all of those quantillions of planets, it is not as retarded as you might think.
Sorry Kev, Creationism isn't involved here so you're out of your element.

Feel free to show us the excellent evidences you have that are contrary to my statement. Keep in mind, if you don't want me to embarass you, you better have at least a masters in biology and chemistry.
Can you enlighten us as to exactly how life started out from purely chemical means on earth?
Here come several posts...

1) lipids are formed rather readily on Earth, fact and evidenced.
2) Lipids have a natural affinity for one another due to polarization. Typically in aqueous solution they will form vesicles that are permeable to monomers under pressure provided by heat.
3) Monomers under increased heat will not bond however once situation cool the natural affinity between monomers will create polymers that...
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (5) Jun 22, 2010
cont: that cannot pass through the membrane formed by lipids.
4) Lipid vesicles by virtue of natural afinity and polarization will consume each other creating larger vesicles. Effectively, they eat each other and grow.
5) These vesicles can be divided through mechanical means (ie: tidal action), during this division the contents are not lost due to endopressure. This is reproduction.

So now we have a cell, with primitive coding structures that eat and reproduce. Through mechanical division you will now have a diversity of forms of archaeic life. Thus evolution begins. Coding structures that provide for lipid and monomer synthesis would be selected for due to the lack of need for external components. Coding structures that are skewed in content to absorb more of the locally available material will grow and reproduce faster. That is abiogenesis and the advent of evolution post abiogenesis. No magic necessary. Thermodynamics and basic chemistry.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.8 / 5 (4) Jun 22, 2010
And all that is required is heat, carbon, oxygen, water, phosphorus, and time. All of which are quite present almost everywhere we look in the cosmos. Let's couple this with the silly notion of "one creator/one creation" and recognize that there isn't one form of life on Earth, technically, there are two. B-DNA and Z-DNA are completely different structures both of which have been found in organisms on Earth.

Bonus points to whoever knows which one we use.
trekgeek1
4.7 / 5 (3) Jun 22, 2010
I like when SH takes on kevinrtrs. I just grab some popcorn and watch the show. But come on SH, pick on someone your own IQ. Beating up creationists may be hilarious and astoundingly entertaining, but it's also very enjoyable.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (8) Jun 23, 2010
Nice try Skeptic. Please explain now how you form the DNA. Oh, by the way also explain the formation of the signalling mechanisms in the cell wall while you're at it. Without those proteins how on earth are you going to get materials into and out of the cell? Evolution of structures? please.
frajo
5 / 5 (5) Jun 23, 2010
Please explain now how you form the DNA. Oh, by the way also explain the formation of the signalling mechanisms in the cell wall while you're at it. Without those proteins how on earth are you going to get materials into and out of the cell? Evolution of structures?
I'm not in the business of molecular biology. But I'm delighted to see the daily progress of the biological sciences explaining evolution in a reasonable and falsifiable way.

I don't understand how an empathic human being would submit to and collude with the capriciousness of a "creator" or "intelligent designer" who is nothing but an inhuman monster watching indifferently or even with amusement the pain and suffering of his creatures. Assumptions of this kind are neither reasonable nor falsifiable.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.8 / 5 (4) Jun 23, 2010
Nice try Skeptic. Please explain now how you form the DNA.
I did, DNA is a polymer composed of a phosphate base. Please try to keep up.
Oh, by the way also explain the formation of the signalling mechanisms in the cell wall while you're at it.
Evolution.
Without those proteins how on earth are you going to get materials into and out of the cell?
Again, thermodynamic expansion and contraction of primitive phosolipids.
Evolution of structures? please.
Didn't I set some fairly hard pre-reqs for you to start questioning? I did that because you don't seem to be able to follow along.
But come on SH, pick on someone your own IQ. Beating up creationists may be hilarious and astoundingly entertaining, but it's also very enjoyable.
I'm not picking on him, I'm educating him. Most people on the level with modern science don't need this education.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (5) Jun 23, 2010
Ok, I re-read and it appears you're asking how current cells, read: not primitive phosolipids like abiogenic life would be.

This is again a result of evolution. The protein structures probably evolved first followed by an alteration of lipid synthesis through mutation. Easy to explain away, just as almost everything else you're going to bring up. Now if you want exact step b6y step processes, that's outside of my knowledge base, but I'd be happy to consult my molecular biologist buddies and get back to you on what we think happened and what we know happened. Most of this would reside in the hypothesis area as there are potentially trillions of different mutations that could lead to this occurance.

Now if you call out "Irreducable Complexity!" I'm going to refer you to the fact IC isn't only accounted for but required by the Theory of Evolution.
bluecanary82
4.5 / 5 (4) Jun 26, 2010
@ Skeptic - i think that was a respectful way to address kevin. i am a christian but not a creationist. it seems to me if a creator designed the universe, he wouldn't have to suddenly invent new rules to be allowed to act within it. any of his long-term goals would probably manifested from the beginning. with more evidence of complex organic molecules popping up everywhere, i think it's not too far-fetched that life exists about everywhere a soup with the right ingredients exists.
bluecanary82
2 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2010
@ frajo - your comment makes sense.. but there are a lot of different beliefs about creators, and people believe for different reasons. probly a big reason (main source motivation?) is the need to explain things in a simpler way. if an entity with similar motivations as a human made it, we can worry less about the particulars. personally i think this is lazy. then there are the churchians, who just follow the crowd or were born into a belief system. then there are those who search, either individually or collectively, using whatever knowledge tools are available. then there are those who are convinced by a doctrine presented to them. and then there are people who just make up something to make themselves feel better. i don't think it's fair to put all these people in the same category. to the point of (paraphrasing) 'if there was a creator, he must be despotic, so why submit to him?' well, that's a different question - if he made us then that might give hum certain rights over us.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2010
@ Skeptic - i think that was a respectful way to address kevin. i am a christian but not a creationist. it seems to me if a creator designed the universe, he wouldn't have to suddenly invent new rules to be allowed to act within it. any of his long-term goals would probably manifested from the beginning. with more evidence of complex organic molecules popping up everywhere, i think it's not too far-fetched that life exists about everywhere a soup with the right ingredients exists.

Thank you. I think the only way to address people who are grossly uninformed is to inform them and allow them to come around or refuse to as they so choose. Of course, if they refuse, I'm more than happy to begin ridicule.
eachus
5 / 5 (1) Jun 28, 2010
Let's couple this with the silly notion of "one creator/one creation" and recognize that there isn't one form of life on Earth, technically, there are two. B-DNA and Z-DNA are completely different structures both of which have been found in organisms on Earth.

Bonus points to whoever knows which one we use.

There are actually three forms of DNA, A,B,and Z. Most life on Earth uses B, but there is some evidence for Z-DNA being used during transcription. The DNA needs to be untwisted for copying, and there is some evidence that B-DNA is curled backwards (Z-DNA), during processing.

A-DNA also occurs naturally, but is mostly found in dessicated cells. These may not be dead--add water and the A-DNA becomes B-DNA and active.

Finally, there are RNA analogs to all three DNA forms, and there is some belief that life started with RNA only--the magic of DNA and cell nuclei as a way to produce multi-cellular life seems to have taken over a billion years to evolve.
bluecanary82
not rated yet Jun 28, 2010
@ eachus - thanks for that. i didnt know about three types of dna (though i have read about Z in the lab), not to mention their uses. the bimodal A->B dna makes me wonder about new methods of dna computing. also - is A more coiled or locked somehow to make it less reactive? something to read about!

also to introduce a new 'twist' i would like to ask the forum two questions:
1) if we were visited by sentient ET, what would he be like? society/individuality/religion/biology/technology ('if we were visited' + 'sentient' eliminates lazy vegetable races)
2) what do you think the result of our interaction would be?
i am asking for a distilled answer from your own heart - not an essay per se - but a scenario that would make sense. sorry to hijack the forum (if it works) but i am made of super-complex organic molecules and that is how i roll.
frajo
not rated yet Jul 19, 2010
probly a big reason (main source motivation?) is the need to explain things in a simpler way.
I'm convinced that the need to have an explanation of the world is the fundamental generator of all human superstition, beliefs, and ideologies. The human animal cannot live if it not has at least an idea about all the events he perceives. It's not about a simpler way of explaining thunder and lightning, it's about having an explanation at all.
i don't think it's fair to put all these people in the same category.
It's not only not fair, it is a symptom of intellectual bankruptcy to generalize this way.
to the point of (paraphrasing) 'if there was a creator, he must be despotic, so why submit to him?' well, that's a different question - if he made us then that might give hum certain rights over us.
Not with my consent. This being would have to justify what it has done unto us.