Astronomers Detect Complex Organic Molecules in Interstellar Clouds

Eight new complex, carbon-containing molecules have been found in two interstellar clouds by an international research team using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.

The team detected acetamide, cyclopropenone, propenal, propanal and ketenimine in Sagittarius B2 (N), while methyl-cyano-diacetylene, methyl-triacetylene and cyanoallene were found in the Taurus Molecular Cloud (TMC-1), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory announced Monday.

Sagittarius B2 (N) is near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, about 26,000 light years from Earth, and the Taurus Molecular Cloud is about 450 light years from Sagittarius B2 (N).

Two years of work led to the molecules' discoveries, "a feat unprecedented in the 35-year history of searching for complex molecules in space," said Jan M. Hollis of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the research team's leader.

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The presence of complex, carbon-containing molecules in the Taurus Molecular Cloud, where temperatures reach only about 10 degrees above absolute zero, "has certainly changed the belief that large organic molecules would only have their origins in hot molecular cores," said Anthony Remijan of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, located in Green Bank, is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.

Members of the team included researchers from the observatory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of Oslo in Norway, the Institute of Radio Astronomy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and the University of Paris.