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Space Science

Naphthalene Found In Outer Space 180

Adam Korbitz writes with an excerpt from his blog on an exciting discovery in space: "A team of researchers led by Spanish scientists has published their discovery of the complex molecule naphthalene in an interstellar star-forming cloud, indicating many prebiotic organic molecules necessary for life as we know it could have been present when our own solar system formed. According to the new research — published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters — the naphthalene molecules were discovered 700 light-years from Earth in a star-forming region of the constellation Perseus, in the direction of the star Cernis 52."
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Naphthalene Found In Outer Space

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  • me no RTFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mrsteveman1 ( 1010381 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @10:45PM (#25089825)

    How exactly does one detect specific molecules, 700 light years away?

  • Unbeknownst to many (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Trails ( 629752 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @10:48PM (#25089839)
    An early draft of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001:A Space Odyssey contained the line

    My God, it's full of mothballs

    which was changed during editing, but further reinforces the prescience of Mr. Clarke.

  • by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @11:01PM (#25089909) Journal

    Literally "the origin of life is everywhere," panspermia theory [wikipedia.org] posits that the seeds life exist all over the universe. A related but separate theory called "exogenesis" posits that life began somewhere other than Earth and was delivered here.

    We've observed vast clouds of organic material far larger than our galaxy in the reaches of space. Now we've discovered prebiotic chemicals there. It's not that much of a stretch to guess that life-as-we-know-it is not uncommon. Intelligence (such as it is?) may be less common. Given the vastness of space and time it's not unreasonable to hope that we're not alone.

  • by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @11:08PM (#25089963) Homepage
    I always wondered why there were no moths in outer space. This explains everything!

    I've always wondered why the elderly are so keen on mothballs. Were there more moths around 75 years ago?
  • by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @11:41PM (#25090107) Journal

    Napthalene is a conjugated benzene ring compound. This then somewhat shows that complex ring compounds can be made in space. If these, then, can be made, then the jump to the DNA bases, and amino acid bases is not too far away.

  • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Sunday September 21, 2008 @12:24AM (#25090259) Homepage Journal

    Natural fibers are more susceptible to them than synthetics, which we use more of now.

    A plausible answer, but a wrong one. It's not just moths that are more scarce inside our homes, but other flying insects too. Few homes have fly paper hanging in various rooms anymore. And young people today panic if they get a bumblebee inside the house -- they simply don't know how to deal with it, because they almost never have to.

    The reason is simply that insects had an easier time flying through an open window or chimney than an air conditioner or electric/gas powered heater. The window screen is pretty new too -- even where available earlier, the windows were usually side-hinged and not sliding, and window screens had to be much bigger, and it was a hassle to add and remove them.

    These days, you only get large flying insects entering when a door is open.
    Cockroaches, ants and other crawling insects, you still get. And fruit flies, which people bring in with plants and produce.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday September 21, 2008 @12:39AM (#25090347) Homepage Journal

    While the production of naphthalene is rare, I doubt it is unique. They are only looking 700 light years out.

    You figure that there's some set mixing, temperature and pressure that coupled with the right raw materials, kicks out different kinds of organic chemicals. Park the right cloud of raw good next to the right kind of star and in the right kind of gravity area, and, it seems reasonable that all sorts of organics might be found eventually all over the universe.

    For all we know, our solar system just whipped right through a cloud of stellar cooked organics, and we practically just have life rained down on our little world.

  • by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Sunday September 21, 2008 @12:47AM (#25090381) Journal

    For all we know, our solar system just whipped right through a cloud of stellar cooked organics, and we practically just have life rained down on our little world.

    And since all the stars we can closely observe have planets, to expect that the star that went supernova and gave us all the elements above Iron did not also have them is perhaps silly.

    So... Is the "stuff of life" common or not? Further study is needed and is under way. We may discover in the Oort cloud the seeds of life. If we do, that should lay the question to rest.

  • by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Sunday September 21, 2008 @01:00AM (#25090411)
    Perhaps, then, the Star Trek vision of the future, where all life forms are similar, could be correct, at least to the extent that they're all DNA and carbon based? Also, wouldn't this push the chances of life evolving on a suitable planet close to 100%?
  • by WgT2 ( 591074 ) on Sunday September 21, 2008 @09:34AM (#25092499) Journal

    A PhD in Biology once posed this to me:

    Suppose you can get all the ingredients for live together in one 'soup' but how do you 'accidently' get a lipid membrane to surround it?

    Thus, it won't matter whether the primordial soup ever existed until it can be shown that said soup could become surrounded by a hydrophobic membrane on its own.

  • by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Sunday September 21, 2008 @02:29PM (#25094983) Homepage

    i think i saw this discussed in a TV program or documentary. if i remember correctly, there are already labs working on this problem. i think one university researcher has even successfully created such hydrophobic membranes using basic chemical reactions that could spontaneously occur under the right conditions.

    obviously there are many different pieces of the puzzle that need to be solved, but the discovery of Naphthalene in space, like the lipid membrane problem, are just one more key element that we've gotten out of the way.

    i mean, without the primordial soup, the hydrophobic membrane would not matter either. so it doesn't make sense to dismiss this just because there are still other important issues. otherwise we'd never learn anything unless all of the pieces suddenly materialized all at once.

New systems generate new problems.