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New Organic Molecule in Space
1 Apr, 2008 01:07 pm
Scientists detect amino acetonitrile near the center of our Milky Way
Starting from 1965, more than 140 molecular species have been detected in space, in interstellar clouds as well as in circumstellar envelopes. A large fraction of these molecules is organic or carbon-based. A lot of attention is given to the quest for so-called "bio"-molecules, especially interstellar amino acids. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and therefore key ingredients for the origin of life, have been found in meteorites on Earth, but not yet in interstellar space.
The simplest amino acid, glycine (NH2CH2COOH), has long been searched for in the interstellar medium but has so far not been unambiguously detected. Since the search for glycine has turned out to be extremely difficult, a chemically related molecule was searched for, amino acetonitrile (NH2CH2CN), probably a direct precursor of glycine.
"Still, we were finally able to assign 51 very weak lines to the molecule amino acetonitrile" says Arnaud Belloche, scientist at the Max Planck institute and first author of the research paper. This result was confirmed at 10 times higher spatial resolution with two radio telescope arrays, the IRAM Plateau de Bure interferometer in France and the Australia Telescope Compact Array. These observations showed that all the candidate lines were emitted from the same position in the "Large Molecule Heimat", "a strong proof of the reliability of our identification".
"Finding amino acetonitrile has greatly extended our insight into the chemistry of dense, hot star-forming regions. I am sure we will be able to identify in the future many new, even more complex organic molecules in the interstellar gas. We already have several candidates!" says Karl Menten, director at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy and head of the "Millimeter and Submillimeter Astronomy" research group.
A. Belloche, K. M. Menten, C. Comito, et al. Detection of amino acetonitrile in Sgr B2(N), Astronomy & Astrophysics (in press), 2008.