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Complex Organic Matter Identified In Space

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose.nul>
Date: Sat, 5 Nov 2011 22:22:47 -0700 (PDT)
Archived: Sun, 06 Nov 2011 19:04:53 -0500
Subject: Complex Organic Matter Identified In Space


The original article was published online in 'Nature' of 26



Stig Agermose


Surprisingly Complex Organic Matter Identified In Space

Oct. 27, 2011
Courtesy of The University of Hong Kong
and World Science staff

Organic molecules of unexpected complexity - similar to those
that serve as the ingredients of life - exist throughout the
universe, a study has found.

The results suggest complex organic compounds can be made
naturally by stars, and not just by living things, according to
researchers, who reported their work in the Oct. 27 issue of the
journal Nature.

Sun Kwok and Yong Zhang of the University of Hong Kong found
that an organic molecule commonly found throughout the universe
contains a mixture of aromatic, or ring-like, and aliphatic, or
chain-like, parts. These chemical structures resemble those of
coal and petroleum, the researchers noted, types of organic
material previously thought to arise only from living organisms.

The researchers were investigating an unsolved puzzle: a set of
infrared light emissions detected in stars and galaxies. For
over two decades, it was widely thought that these "unidentified
infrared emission features" come from simple organic molecules
made of carbon and hydrogen atoms, called polycyclic aromatic

But using data from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space
Observatory and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, Kwok and Zhang
concluded that the substances generating these emissions are
much more complex. By analyzing the light of star dust formed in
exploding stars called novae, they found that stars are making
these complex organic compounds on extremely short time scales
of weeks, and throwing them off into space.

"Theoretically", it's "impossible" for stars to create these
molecules, "but observationally we can see it happening", Kwok

The organic star dust is similar in structure to complex organic
compounds found in meteorites, Kwok and Zhang added. Since
meteorites are remnants of the early Solar System, the findings
raise the possibility that stars enriched the early Solar System
with organic compounds. The early Earth was subjected to severe
bombardments by comets and asteroids, which might have carried
organic star dust, the researchers speculate.

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