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Researchers: “Vast reservoir” of complex molecules found in cold cloud, not dying stars, as expected

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In a series of nine papers, scientists from the GOTHAM–Green Bank Telescope Observations of TMC-1: Hunting Aromatic Molecules–project described the detection of more than a dozen polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the Taurus Molecular Cloud, or TMC-1
– M. Weiss / Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

We are told, “Radio observations of a cold, dense cloud of molecular gas reveal more than a dozen unexpected molecules:

Scientists have discovered a vast, previously unknown reservoir of new aromatic material in a cold, dark molecular cloud by detecting individual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules in the interstellar medium for the first time, and in doing so are beginning to answer a three-decades-old scientific mystery: how and where are these molecules formed in space?

“We had always thought polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were primarily formed in the atmospheres of dying stars,” said Brett McGuire, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Project Principal Investigator for GOTHAM, or Green Bank Telescope (GBT) Observations of TMC-1: Hunting Aromatic Molecules. “In this study, we found them in cold, dark clouds where stars haven’t even started forming yet.” …

Scientists have suspected the presence of PAHs in space since the 1980s but the new research, detailed in nine papers published over the past seven months, provides the first definitive proof of their existence in molecular clouds…

Much to their surprise, the team didn’t discover just one new molecule hiding out in TMC-1. Detailed in multiple papers, the team observed 1-cyanonaphthalene, 1-cyano-cyclopentadiene, HC11N, 2-cyanonaphthalene, vinylcyanoacetylene, 2-cyano-cyclopentadiene, benzonitrile, trans-(E)-cyanovinylacetylene, HC4NC, and propargylcyanide, among others. “It’s like going into a boutique shop and just browsing the inventory on the front-end without ever knowing there was a back room. We’ve been collecting little molecules for 50 years or so and now we have discovered there’s a back door. When we opened that door and looked in, we found this giant warehouse of molecules and chemistry that we did not expect,” said McGuire. “There it was, all the time, lurking just beyond where we had looked before.”

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Scientists uncover warehouse-full of complex molecules never before seen in space” at Eurekalert

The newly discovered molecules may lead to changes in hypotheses s to where and how planets form.

The nine papers are listed here; most are open access.

One Reply to “Researchers: “Vast reservoir” of complex molecules found in cold cloud, not dying stars, as expected

  1. 1
    aarceng says:

    I’d like to see James Tour comment on the utility of these for the origin of life.
    Or as he said in his recent series, he could give you all of those and it would still be impossible.

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