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Space Science

Clues of Life's Origins Found In Galactic Cloud 80

astroengine writes "Finding things like amino acids in space directly is a difficult business. So, instead of finding them directly, a team using West Virginia's Green Bank Telescope, led by Anthony Remijan, discovered two other molecules – cyanomethanimine and ethanamine — both of which are precursor molecules. In other words, these molecules are the early steps in the chain of chemical reactions that go on to make the stuff of life. The researchers found these molecules near the center of the Milky Way inside a hulking interstellar cloud known as Sagittarius B2 (Sgr B2), spanning 150 light-years in size, up to 40 times as dense as any other cloud the Milky Way has to offer."
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Clues of Life's Origins Found In Galactic Cloud

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  • Hey, wait a sec... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ibmleninpro ( 2859905 ) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @09:21PM (#43111913)
    I recognize this story...
    I'm on one of the graduate students on this project! Feel free to ask me anything if you're interested!
    Since the article didn't post a link to the paper (my #1 pet peeve as a scientist), here it is on arxiv: []
  • Re:Life (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jamu ( 852752 ) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @09:40PM (#43112061)
    Which is just 4 light-minutes away. Voyager 1 is 17 light-hours away, and has taken 35 years to get that far. The next nearest star system is Proxima Centauri, and that is 4 light-years away...
  • by rusty0101 ( 565565 ) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @09:47PM (#43112129) Homepage Journal

    It's not just finding amino acids. Yes, as yous say amino acids are have been detected before. the problem is that there are a lot of different amino acids, and only some of them are essential to the fundamental building blocks of life. What this research is showing is that they have detected some of the essential amino acids, rather than the general variety known about before. It's somewhat like the difference between knowing that there is carbon in interstellar space, and finding diamonds, graphine or bucky-tubes. Knowing that there is carbon there does not imply that you will find one of the specific forms, but if you find one of those forms, you can deduce that it is much easier to start from there as a building block for other things (presuming you know things that use them as building blocks.)

    Likewise just because the building blocks of life are in interstellar space doesn't mean that life is everywhere, just that when conditions are favorable, it's reasonable to presume that the amino acids necessary can show up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 07, 2013 @09:56PM (#43112183)

    The radio telescopes that are used technically do record a full "column" of signal in the path between here and the molecular cloud. They key is we assume the atmosphere is relatively uniform across the time of the measurement so the telescope actually moves and points away from the source to collect a "background". This allows us to remove any signal coming from the atmosphere.

    Additionally we can see the temperature these molecules are at. For this example the molecule is only sitting at a few K which is far too cold to be in the earths atmosphere (even the upper atmosphere).

  • by ibmleninpro ( 2859905 ) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @10:26PM (#43112387)
    It doesn't really resolve any of these issues. This is really a result about the formation of simple biomolecules, like glycine (in the case of ethanimine) or adenine (cyanomethanimine). In other words, this is a hint towards solving the mystery of why we have amino acids in the first place, and nothing towards figuring out the synthesis of more complex structures.
  • Re:Life (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @12:45AM (#43113055) Homepage
    Nonetheless, we don't have the capability to go significantly faster than the voyager probes. Consider New Horizons -- designed to go as fast as possible to the furthest reaches of the solar system.

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