Researchers have found an organic molecule essential to biology in interstellar space for the first time, experts announced, a discovery that could help solve a long-time mystery.
Like humans, the organic molecules that make up the universe can lean left-handed or right-handed, a preference known as chirality. Most molecules on Earth lean left — but scientists don’t know why.
The recently discovered interstellar molecule is the most complex ever discovered outside our solar system, and the first chiral molecule detected in interstellar space.
It’s “a pioneering leap forward in our understanding of how prebiotic molecules are made in the universe and the effects they may have on the origins of life,” Brett McGuire, a chemist in Charlottesville, Virginia, who co-authored the research, said on Tuesday.
Scientists have found chiral molecules in meteorites on Earth and comets in our solar system, but never before in interstellar space.
The molecule, propylene oxide, was found “near the center of our galaxy in an enormous star-forming cloud of dust and gas,” the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) said in a statement.
Scientists used an extremely sensitive radio telescope to detect the molecule. They presented their findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting in San Diego, California this week, and published a paper in the journal Science.
By skewing left or right, molecules have a biological advantage, because the congruence helps them build more complicated structures.
“Propylene oxide is among the most complex and structurally intricate molecules detected so far in space,” said Brandon Carroll, a chemistry graduate student at the California Institute of Technology.
“Detecting this molecule opens the door for further experiments determining how and where molecular handedness emerges.”
Certain biomolecules like amino acids — which make up proteins — are exclusively “left-handed,” while some sugars, including those that comprise DNA, all lean right.
The origin of chirality in molecules remains a mystery, but scientists are hopeful that the interstellar discovery could finally solve the puzzle by clearing up what ingredients formed the base of our solar system.
Researchers have found more than 180 molecules in space that give off a distinct vibration scientists can detect with radio telescopes.
Larger, more complex molecules have more complicated vibration patterns, making them more difficult to identify.
Scientists hope that if they can understand the chirality of the propylene oxide molecule found in space, they can gain a better understanding of chiral molecules on Earth.
The study, known as the Prebiotic Interstellar Molecular Survey, is part of nearly a decade of research by the West Virginia-based NRAO, the organization that operates the ultra-sensitive Green Bank Telescope used in the research. The facility is part of the US National Science Foundation.
So long, Steve King: 9-term white supremacist GOP congressman from Iowa loses primary
U.S. Congressman Steve King, a nine-term Republican of Iowa, has just lost his primary to a GOP challenger. It's a huge fall from grace: In 2014 The Des Moines Register labeled the former earth-moving company founder a "presidential kingmaker."
But his racist, white nationalist, white supremacist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, homophobic, transphobic, biphobic remarks and disturbing ties to far right radical European politicians – including one he endorsed who has ties to a neo-Nazi, finally caught up with him.
When the president’s son-in-law truly was a great success
For many Americans, the idea of the president tasking his son-in-law with solving national, even international, crises, seems problematic, if not absurd. But it happened once before and turned out to be the kind of “great success story” our current first family wants us to believe in again. Slightly over a century ago, as the US mobilized for the First World War, the nation faced devastating breakdowns of its financial and transport systems. In response, President Woodrow Wilson leaned heavily on his talented and experienced Treasury Secretary, William McAdoo, who just happened to be his son-in-law. Looking back at this episode tells us a lot about what makes for successful emergency management at the highest levels of government.
Here are 7 ways Donald Trump is just like Henry Ford — and why that’s not good for American democracy
On May 21, speaking at the Ford Motor Company’s Rawsonville plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Donald Trump paid his latest homage to Henry Ford, lauding the family’s “good bloodlines” with Ford’s great grandson sitting in the front row.
Ford, like Trump, was obsessed with bloodlines—with the idea that race and genetic origins determined who counted as the “best people.”