Cosmic Soup

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Here’s an interesting article from Nature News (subscription may be required):

Organic compound found in the stars

Astronomers have found the largest negatively charged molecule so far seen in interstellar space. The discovery, of an organic compound, suggests that the chemical building blocks of life may be more common in the Universe than had been previously thought.

The molecule is a chain of eight carbons and a single hydrogen called the octatetraynyl anion (C8H¯). Two teams of scientists have spotted it near a dying star and in a cloud of cold gas.

The discovery, along with that of three smaller organic molecules in the past year, opens up a suite of potential chemical reactions and products. It suggests that ‘prebiotic’ molecules such as amino acids, the building blocks of protein, could form all over the Universe, says Tony Remijan, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Way cool.

6 Comments

Is someone somewhere keeping track of exactly which organic or prebiotic molecules have and haven’t been shown to arise purely chemically, given some proper environment?

…The upper probability bound for a random evolution of an organic molecule is 10^10000. Now the materialists have found it only because the very act of looking through a telescope is an intelligent activity not a natural activity…and the chance that you will find it in our corner of the universe is…

Steve, you get the idea…right?

Is someone somewhere keeping track of exactly which organic or prebiotic molecules have and haven’t been shown to arise purely chemically, given some proper environment?

“Organic” and “pre-biotic” are meaningful but somewhat arbitrary human classifications of molecules.

All molecules always arise “purely chemically”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedr[…]_W%C3%B6hler

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism

Living cells contain enzymes and associated molecules, which are catalysts. Catalysts increase the rate of particular reactions, allowing cells to perform highly specific chemical reactions at a massively greater efficiency than would be typical in a random extracellular environment. There is nothing magical or unnatural about this, however.

In practice many of the larger molecular components of a cell are the result of so many highly specific, enzyme-catalyzed reactions, that it is unlikely that they could form spontaneously in any significant, detectable concentration, in a natural extracellular environment, even within the entire lifespan and volume of the universe.

An arbitary cutoff somewhere in range of amino acids, small peptides, short nucleic acid sequences, small fatty acids and small carbohydrates might be a reasonable approximation of what could form spontaneously in a human-detectable concentration, in an appropriate but enzyme-lacking extracellular environment.

What is intriguing about this and related discoveries is the suggestion that “organic” or “prebiotic” compounds could form in significant amounts more often or in a more widespread distribution throughout the universe than we might have suspected, or even preferrentially in “outer space” rather than terrestrial environments.

This has only very minimal and indirect implications for the theory of evolution, strictly speaking, which at present describes the evolution of cellular and post-cellular life on earth. A strong hypothesis of abiogenesis would be a nice adjunct, but the theory stands on its own.

This discovery does impact on two related fields very strongly -

1) Abiogenesis - it is conceivable that this could strengthen hypotheses that have some complex organic molecules entering from outer space rather than forming spontaneously on earth, although they’d have to survive the journey through the atmosphere intact.

2) Musings about extraterrestrial life - This is a field that I deliberately refrain from holding any opinion on, but if a strong hypothesis of abiogenesis that included “ingredients from outer space” were developed, and if there were evidence for planets with similar climactic conditions to earth, similarly likely to receive such molecules, it might be said to strengthen the idea that terrestrial-like, carbon-based “life” could arise or have arisen elsewhere. I think it would still be a huge jump to assume that nucleic acid like molecules or other specific features of life on earth would arise elsewhere, and I don’t have any idea how to clearly define “life” even with reference to those specific molecules, let alone without reference to them. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that this discovery could be said to support, at least weakly, the idea that “life” may exist elsewhere.

Ahhh, stardust. I’m no physycist, but I’m not surprised. Ken

Oh Boy. This thread has the appearance of being a major Puddle magnet…

Negative ions isn’t uncommon in man made low pressure plasmas, especially as electronegative (or rather electron affine) oxygen is a common contaminant. There they can have some drastic effects for both the plasma and the surface chemistry.

I see carbon is no slouch in the electronegativity department either.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on July 25, 2007 3:34 PM.

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