Complex carbon-bearing molecules that could help explain how life got started have been identified in space for the first time.
These molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, consist of several linked hexagonal rings of carbon with hydrogen atoms at the edges. Astronomers have suspected for decades that these molecules are abundant in space, but none had been directly spotted before.
Simpler molecules with a single ring of carbon have been seen before. But “we’re now excited to see that we’re able to detect these larger PAHs for the first time in space,” says astrochemist Brett McGuire of MIT, whose team reports the discovery in the March 19 Science.
Studying these molecules and others like them could help scientists understand how the chemical precursors to life might get started in space. “Carbon is such a fundamental part of chemical reactions, especially reactions leading to life’s essential molecules,” McGuire says. “This is our window into a huge reservoir of them.”
#space #science #carbon #cabonrings #astronomy
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