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Clues of Life's Origins Found In Galactic Cloud

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the it's-full-of-stars dept.

Space 80

astroengine writes "Finding things like amino acids in space directly is a difficult business. So, instead of finding them directly, a team using West Virginia's Green Bank Telescope, led by Anthony Remijan, discovered two other molecules – cyanomethanimine and ethanamine — both of which are precursor molecules. In other words, these molecules are the early steps in the chain of chemical reactions that go on to make the stuff of life. The researchers found these molecules near the center of the Milky Way inside a hulking interstellar cloud known as Sagittarius B2 (Sgr B2), spanning 150 light-years in size, up to 40 times as dense as any other cloud the Milky Way has to offer."

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80 comments

Life (4, Insightful)

dreamchaser (49529) | about a year ago | (#43111795)

I have a feeling that if we could get out there and explore we'd find at least 'primitive' life is near ubiquitous. The precursors are all around, and given the vastness of the Universe there has got to be plenty of life out there. It is unfortunate that we might never leave our Solar System with meaningful exploratory tools, but I'm still hopeful. We probably won't know in our lifetime though.

Re:Life (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43111961)

Why would we never leave our solar system? We're already knocking on Mars' door...

Re:Life (3, Informative)

Jamu (852752) | about a year ago | (#43112061)

Which is just 4 light-minutes away. Voyager 1 is 17 light-hours away, and has taken 35 years to get that far. The next nearest star system is Proxima Centauri, and that is 4 light-years away...

Re:Life (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112155)

There's a misrepresentation in your post. It is true that Voyager 1 is 17 light hours away and it has taken 35 years, yes, but that's not the point of Voyager 1. The mission of Voyager 1 wasn't to see how far it could get in 35 years. If we needed to get a craft 17 light hours from Earth in the fastest time possible it certainly wouldn't take 35 years, even with 1960s technology.

Re:Life (2, Informative)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about a year ago | (#43113055)

Nonetheless, we don't have the capability to go significantly faster than the voyager probes. Consider New Horizons -- designed to go as fast as possible to the furthest reaches of the solar system.

FTL (1)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#43113287)

Realistically we (humans, not just robotic probes) are not going to be going to other star systems until we invent/discover: Warp Drive/Hyperdrive/hyperspace/jumpgates/stargates/Alderson points/Warp points or [Insert your favorite FTL technology here]

Re:FTL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43113597)

I don't agree. We'll go when:

1. We have the technology to survive indefinitely in space using the available resources.
2. The solar system gets too fucking crowded.

I don't agree with the GP either. New Horizons isn't just designed to go there, but also to collected data from the places it passes. If we were looking to shoot something out of the system faster, we could do it. Going further up the thread, when we are talking interstellar distances, we would have a lot of time to accelerate.

Re:FTL (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year ago | (#43113633)

We can't work out how to do #1 with our current "spaceship", and that's in nice stable orbit around a star with a preexisting life support system.

Re:FTL (1)

q.kontinuum (676242) | about a year ago | (#43114673)

The main problem is energy. I would expect if that problem (cheap, clean enough energy) could be solved, it should be possible to split up the waste and grow food. The energy-problem might be solved a couple of years from now: http://www.dvice.com/2013-2-22/lockheeds-skunk-works-promises-fusion-power-four-years [dvice.com]

What remains is that the genetic pool can't be refreshed easily during the long journey, when multiplying the conventional way. So enough sperm and ovules would be required to have the crew survive long enough. (A kind of rotation might be OK, current crew might donate something to be used in later generations.)

Thinking about it, we might plan a project already and assemble a premium crew for it. Top politicians, top managers, top hairdressers and phone desinfectors.

Re:FTL (4, Insightful)

morgauxo (974071) | about a year ago | (#43116475)

Man I hate that argument. You are saying if we can't even figure out how not to harm the Earth's environment we can't or shouldn't be working on how to create a good environment in space right?

That is so backwards! We learn by doing the smaller things first, then the large ones. What do you think is more complicated, the environment of a complete planet or the space within a spaceship? Maybe by figuring out how to live on the space ship we will actually learn something we can apply to managing our resources back on Earth! For example... I bet people will develop some really good waste processing technology when they are reliant on it directly for drinking water!

At the very least, any steps we take in space are not likely to harm any existing liveable natural environment unlike pretty much everything we do on Earth. If anything environmentalists should want us OFF the planet, not on it! Some people seem to be more concerned about poluting our dead moon than they are our living planet! WTF are people smoking?

Re:FTL (1)

jc42 (318812) | about a year ago | (#43123741)

We can't work out how to do #1 [survive indefinitely in space using only available resources] with our current "spaceship", and that's in nice stable orbit around a star with a preexisting life support system.

Nah; we know pretty well how to do that on such a large "spaceship". It's just that we've given the controls to businessmen and religious leaders. The former have a "moral" objection to any strategy other than short-term personal gain, while the latter are "morally" opposed to limits on population growth, and both oppose teaching the general population what we know about how biological systems work. But all have to do is kick them out of their controlling positions and replace them with people who want things to be stable in the long term.

Stick around a while, and see if it happens ...

Re:FTL (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about a year ago | (#43116583)

Why would somebody mod that down? Just because of the 'F' word? Grow up moderator!

This is right on! Given what we are learning about our outer solar system and just begining to notice around other stars it would seem space isn't quite as empty as we thought. Without FTL travel people can still spread out, one rock/iceball at a time until eventually they end up in other solar systems. That route just takes longer but... if we develop that ability to live out there.. and FTL turns out ot be impossible or we just don't figure it out then I would think that kind of expansion is almost ineviteable.

Of course.. it might happen on timescales so long that the people who reach the next star system aren't really homosapien anymore!

I'm not sure #2 is even necessary so long as there are valuable minerals out there. Or for that matter, people who just want to be pioneers. It certainly would help accelerate things though.

Re:FTL (1)

History's Coming To (1059484) | about a year ago | (#43115061)

Nope, it's far more simple than that, thanks to Einstein's discoveries. All we need is a ship that can produce a 1g thrust over a long time. This is still a big technological jump from where we are now, but it's well within the realms of known physics. With a 1g thrust we could be on the other side of the galaxy, 100,000 light years away, in just over 22 years of ship time. That's relatively easy, no pun intended, and doesn't require any fancy new physics. The Earth time for the journey will be around 100,071 years, so there's no coming back or sending lots of emails home, but if we simply want to get humans out there it's not a problem.

The bonus is a 1g acceleration solves a lot of the medical problems like muscle (inc heart) wastage and mineral leaching.

Re:FTL (1)

smpoole7 (1467717) | about a year ago | (#43115305)

> Nope, it's far more simple than that, thanks to Einstein's discoveries. All we need is a ship that can produce a 1g thrust over a long time ...

Sure. I've done the math. Theoretically, you'd reach the speed of light in about a year's time. But it won't happen and in fact, Einstein's "discoveries" were among the first to explain WHY it can't happen. :)

1. As you accelerate toward the speed of light (so-called "relativistic" speed), your mass approaches infinity. You reach a point where you can't generate enough reaction to "push" the ship any faster. Time passes more slowly for *you* on that ship, but that's not much help to the people back on Earth who are waiting to hear from you.

2. Bussard ramjets, which theoretically scoop up interstellar hydrogen for a fusion drive have another problem. First, no rocket can accelerate faster than its exhaust. Second, physicists have worked out the math and even if you could make the "scoop" as perfect as possible, the drag of collecting interstellar hydrogen itself places a top limit on your speed (about 1/2C, as I recall, but I could be wrong).

3. At higher speeds, minor things like cosmic rays and solar wind become lethal particles. (This is being discussed right now as a real problem for a simple Mars mission -- spending a year in space could result in the astronauts glowing in the dark before they get back to Earth!) Ergo, you'll need better shielding.

Bottom line: before we can ever go to the stars -- or even just explore the Oort cloud in our own solar system, we're going to need something that will take a ship completely out of Einsteinian space. Until warp/tunnel/wormholes drives are invented (IF they can ever be invented), we're stuck to a relatively close ring around our planet.

Re:FTL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43115639)

1.) You can always push the ship faster, just there is diminishing returns. The poster you are replying to seems to be well aware of relativity and was pointing out that from the traveler's perspective, you can actually go pretty far [wikipedia.org] with just 1 g of acceleration taking relativity into account.

2.)A rocket can easily accelerate faster than its exhaust velocity. The exhaust velocity is just where the maximum in energy efficiency for use of the fuel to generate kinetic energy is. The efficiency slowly drops off as you go faster, but that doesn't prevent you from going faster assuming you have a power source to do so.

3.) A larger portion of cosmic rays are already going near the speed of light. Speeding up in a rocket ship won't matter too much until you get going really fast. It looks like you wouldn't notice much of a chance in flux of cosmic rays until several years of ship time of travel, and having traveled about 100 light years with the 1g acceleration. Other background particles would be more of an issue though, but would still amount of cosmic ray like energies.

The only show stopping issue in the end is just the amount of energy needed to maintain the 1g acceleration for long periods of time.

Re:FTL (1)

History's Coming To (1059484) | about a year ago | (#43116789)

1. As you accelerate toward the speed of light (so-called "relativistic" speed), your mass approaches infinity. You reach a point where you can't generate enough reaction to "push" the ship any faster.

Incorrect. You can always push the ship faster because the relativistic mass never reaches infinity, it just asymptotically approaches is. Yes, it gets harder to accelerate the ship, but at no point does it become theoretically impossible.

Time passes more slowly for *you* on that ship, but that's not much help to the people back on Earth who are waiting to hear from you.

Indeed. As I pointed out. Just because I won't be able to tell people about it doesn't mean I wouldn't want to go!

2. Bussard ramjets, which theoretically scoop up interstellar hydrogen for a fusion drive have another problem. First, no rocket can accelerate faster than its exhaust. Second, physicists have worked out the math and even if you could make the "scoop" as perfect as possible, the drag of collecting interstellar hydrogen itself places a top limit on your speed (about 1/2C, as I recall, but I could be wrong). 3. At higher speeds, minor things like cosmic rays and solar wind become lethal particles. (This is being discussed right now as a real problem for a simple Mars mission -- spending a year in space could result in the astronauts glowing in the dark before they get back to Earth!) Ergo, you'll need better shielding.

I never suggested Bussard ramjets, but you're right, they're certainly not the great solution that some SF paints them as. What I had in mind was some variation on a particle accelerator as a drive, that way you can pump relativistic energy into, for example, single protons and use those to give the ship an arbitrarily large push (using Orion Project style shock absorbers to smooth the ride out), this way you get the maximum thrust for a given amount of fuel, you just need a silly amount of energy to do it. With current or near future technology this energy source is likely to be fusion reactors, and as we'd be using a form of water as the fuel for the reactor and possibly as a source of reaction material this becomes a realistic material to use as radiation/high energy particle shielding.

If I had to design a starship I'd start with an asteroid.

Re:FTL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43118407)

"If I had to design a starship I'd start with an asteroid."

Think bigger, use a planet. Oh wait...

Re:FTL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43116831)

Sure. I've done the math. Theoretically, you'd reach the speed of light in about a year's time

What?

1. As you accelerate toward the speed of light (so-called "relativistic" speed), your mass approaches infinity. You reach a point where you can't generate enough reaction to "push" the ship any faster.

Oh, ok. For a second I thought you really, really sucked at math.

Re:FTL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43119069)

First, no rocket can accelerate faster than its exhaust.

Photons can be used as propellant. Not being faster than photons is no additional restriction ;-).

Re: Fuck This Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43119159)

Or...

We transcend the need for FTL travel. Post-biological humans would have far less need for hasty travel between stars -- and we have every reason to suspect that interstellar-capable entities are necessarily post-biological anyway.

And then there's a glaringly obvious answer to the Fermi Paradox which is often phrased as "Where is everyone?"... "everyone" we might consider even remotely "advanced" has "moved on" already. Left this stage of existence, quite literally. No need for vast, galactic-scale civilizations if transcendence is possible without even needing to leave a home star.

Any news yet on the veracity of those potential extra dimensions of space/time?

Re:Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43117189)

New Horizons was not designed to go as fast as possible. By the nature of their missions, the speed of planetary probes is a balance. If they go too fast, they will be much harder to insert into orbit, or will spend less time in data gathering range of the planet. If they go too slow, then a lot of time is spent waiting for it to get there. There is also the question of how long to wait for an appropriate gravitational slingshot in the right direction.

Anyway, while New Horizons had one of the fastest launch velocities, by the time it gets past Pluto, it will be going only about 75% of Voyager 1's speed for a given distance from the Sun.

Re:Life (3, Interesting)

AchilleTalon (540925) | about a year ago | (#43113525)

Even if we could go a thousands times faster than Voyagers, this won't be enough. Also, a long trip in the interstellar space imply no solar energy and nuclear energy sources are limited to about 40 years. Just think about are current nuclear reactors which need major upgrade after 25-30 years of operation. And massive shielding against cosmic rays will be needed since life in such a vessel will be constantly bombarded by cosmic rays at high energy for decades if not centuries. A single round-trip of less than two years to Mars may already be a problem for humans. Sorry, but Hollywood isn't the best place to seek for advice on deep space exploration.

Re:Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43113653)

If cosmic rays are dangerous, then it is because of their energy. If they have energy, it could be turned into useful propulsion (with sufficient tech).

Re:Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43117369)

The power supplied by cosmic rays is on the order of a microwatt per square meter. The rays are dangerous because the individual particles have a lot of energy each, but the total number of particles is not that large as far as speaking in terms of total energy. Additionally, because of how high energy the particles have each, they will not give up a large part of that energy in a single collision, so in order to capture and extract that energy would require a considerable amount of mass and volume.

It is like talking of collecting lightning. An individual lightning strike involves a fair amount of energy, but a given location is not hit that frequently. Additionally, any power you build that doesn't go right up into the clouds is going to collect only a fraction of that energy, as most of it is expended in the bolt part reaching your tower.

Re:Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43143781)

Interestingly, one of the best shielding materials is uranium.

Re:Life (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#43114519)

There's a misrepresentation in your post. It is true that Voyager 1 is 17 light hours away and it has taken 35 years, yes, but that's not the point of Voyager 1. The mission of Voyager 1 wasn't to see how far it could get in 35 years. If we needed to get a craft 17 light hours from Earth in the fastest time possible it certainly wouldn't take 35 years, even with 1960s technology.

The Helios probes did set the record at 157,000 mph which is much faster than Voyager's 38,000 mph. However, Helios did not sustain that speed, while Voyager has. But even if a probe of sufficient size to do the job could sustain that speed, in 35 years, it would still be less than 3 light days away.

Re:Life (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43115429)

Why would we never leave our solar system? We're already knocking on Mars' door...

Christ, who modded that ignorant comment up? To answer your incredibly ignorant question, a question so ignorant I wonder WTF you're doing at slashdot, read HHGTG sometime... oh you never heard of that, either.

Space is big. Rally big. You think a trip to the chemist is a long way off...

As Adams so humorously pointed out, the vastness of space is incomprehensible to the human imagination (well, yours, anyway). Compared to the distance to Alpha Proxima, Earth and Mars are touching each other. That's how far off the nearest star is. Nobody alive today will ever see a manmade object in another stellar system. Maybe in a thousand years, but not in the lofetime of anyone born yesterday.

Re:Life (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#43112393)

We probably won't know in this lifetime, but anything is possible.

Re:Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43113415)

Actually, we have a pretty good idea what is possible and what isn't. Interstellar travel is firmly in the "isn't" category.

Re:Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43114303)

Life... dreams... hope... Where do they come from? And where do they go? Such meaningless things...I'll destroy them all!

Hey, wait a sec... (5, Informative)

ibmleninpro (2859905) | about a year ago | (#43111913)

I recognize this story...
I'm on one of the graduate students on this project! Feel free to ask me anything if you're interested!
Since the article didn't post a link to the paper (my #1 pet peeve as a scientist), here it is on arxiv: http://arxiv.org/abs/1302.0909 [arxiv.org]

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112013)

So how will this play into the fate of Green Bank?

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (3, Interesting)

ibmleninpro (2859905) | about a year ago | (#43112427)

Sadly none at all, I don't think. It's a really wonderful telescope, a hidden scientific treasure of the Americas. I hope it goes to private control, like how SRI runs Arceibo now. But ALMA is the big boy now (not a bad thing, ALMA will be incredible when it's fully up and running), and what ALMA wants, ALMA (mostly) gets.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (2)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about a year ago | (#43112031)

So I'm not a biologist and am a little confused why discovering these molecules is a big deal, since we've already found amino acids in space. Is this just because it means that amino acids might be really more common than realize?

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (5, Informative)

rusty0101 (565565) | about a year ago | (#43112129)

It's not just finding amino acids. Yes, as yous say amino acids are have been detected before. the problem is that there are a lot of different amino acids, and only some of them are essential to the fundamental building blocks of life. What this research is showing is that they have detected some of the essential amino acids, rather than the general variety known about before. It's somewhat like the difference between knowing that there is carbon in interstellar space, and finding diamonds, graphine or bucky-tubes. Knowing that there is carbon there does not imply that you will find one of the specific forms, but if you find one of those forms, you can deduce that it is much easier to start from there as a building block for other things (presuming you know things that use them as building blocks.)

Likewise just because the building blocks of life are in interstellar space doesn't mean that life is everywhere, just that when conditions are favorable, it's reasonable to presume that the amino acids necessary can show up.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

Grizzley9 (1407005) | about a year ago | (#43112541)

Likewise just because the building blocks of life are in interstellar space doesn't mean that life is everywhere, just that when conditions are favorable, it's reasonable to presume that the amino acids necessary can show up.

We hear this a lot about having the building blocks of life and amino acids and such (I'm not a scientist), so if it is known all the blocks that make life and theorized it's possible, how come we are not running experiments constantly pulsing electricity through millions of different combinations of these building blocks to see if we can jumpstart life ourselves in the lab (or are we)? Or has it happened and just not made the 'joe public' newscast? Stories such as this come across as taking for granted we have the building blocks of life, so life must be abundant or at least n>1, but then we run into the wall of the Fermi Paradox.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112677)

There is a lot of data available on that. I remember reading about at least 100 different experiments from Nat Geo and biology textbooks. It's out there and I'm tempted to say "google" but wikipedia is maybe a more direct alternative, start digging through sources. We've even created self replicating molecules at this point I think in a lab somewhere but don't cite me on that.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year ago | (#43113677)

Abiogenisis [youtube.com] (turn up your speakers), has been studied quite well, I believe (but cannot prove) the missing ingredient in the experiments is time.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (2)

smpoole7 (1467717) | about a year ago | (#43115499)

> the missing ingredient is time

Yep. But given that the age of the universe is about 14 billion years, and that it spent the first 8-9 billion years of that creating all of those chemicals (primarily via stellar nucleosynthesis -- i.e, supernovae), there's not a whole lot of time available, on a cosmic scale. Whatever finally ends up being proposed for abiogenesis will have to be a VERY efficient process.

Finding the pre-biotic chemicals in stellar clouds is an important first step. This is amazing stuff.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

IAmR007 (2539972) | about a year ago | (#43129305)

Another problem in searching for life is that anything that is intelligent enough to start outputting radio transmissions will take time to evolve to that point. There may be quite a few advanced civilizations out there, but light only travels so fast.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112161)

We've found amino acids in a comet yet but thats only 1 instance in our local area (glycine in a comet) where we already know life exists. The question now is understanding how these molecules got there, can the others be produced, and how abundant can we expect them to be.

The chances of detecting the full amino acid by IR or radio astronomy is very slim unless they were very very high in abundance(due to their "large" size and large number of species in the sample) thus in order to understand if they are actually there we are forced to search for smaller more abundant molecules so that we can create and accurate chemical model that represents the chemistry of space. Right now those models are off by orders of magnitude so finding a precursor in the line to another amino acid can be rather exciting. Right now thats as close as we are to seeing/[identifying] a biologically relevant molecule outside our solar system.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (5, Interesting)

ibmleninpro (2859905) | about a year ago | (#43112367)

I'm not one to really speculate on this, since I'm a spectroscopist, not an astrobiologist, but I'll give it a shot. There is a BIG difference chemically (and temporally) between what we detect in clouds in star-forming regions and what we detect on comets or any kind of interstellar surface. There's definitely a cause-and-effect thing going on here, but the real gap in knowledge is what's the mechanism to go from cloud consitutents to cometary material (then obviously to planetary surfaces).

What's really interesting in the context of chemistry is the chemical or physical mechanism for generating complex molecular substance in an early protoplanetary system (either in a cloud, or a disk around a young star, or whatever). We can't really attempt to recreate the conditions of space -- we can do cold, we can do fairly low pressures (though obviously not as low as interstellar space), we can make stuff on surfaces, we can even bombard it with an intense and high-energy photons -- but it's mostly just simple models for the intense conditions of a star forming region.

Most of the research does point to the conclusion that most of the complex organic material gets formed on surfaces of various ices or grains -- it's really the only thermodynamically viable way of forming stuff at such extreme conditions. But how do we probe this spectroscopically? It turns out spectroscopy on surfaces kind of sucks (no offense to surface scientists) -- the absorptions are broad and fairly uncharacteristic, especially on a surface with a potentially complex mixture of molecules of both high and low abundance. It turns out the best way to get resolution is to go to gas-phase. Problem here is that it's damn cold! Complex stuff can't get formed sub-20 K temperatures. But we do see stuff, like this molecule, that give us some sense of what's really going on. There's no way to detect whether or not this stuff is being made on ices or grains and then getting heated off by the absorption of a photon, or whatever, but it's likely the case (especially since there is experimental evidence of ethanimine and cyanomethanimine being formed on cold ice surfaces).

Amino acids (and nucleic acids) might be a lot more abundant than we know. But it's likely this stuff sticks to the ices and grains, or gets formed a lot later in the star formation cycle. That being said, finding these molecules that are studied precursors to major biomolecules is a good sign that the field's on the right track (for the most part. There's a lot of old ideas in the field, and with the advent of the next generation of radio astronomy starting this decade, I think we'll start to see a lot more results like this).

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (2)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year ago | (#43112135)

How can you tell that the spectra you are observing is definitely something from the object being observed at that distance as opposed to an organic molecule in our Earth's atmosphere which is interposed between the observatory and the object being observed? [i apologize if this is a naive question; I am still in high school].

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112183)

The radio telescopes that are used technically do record a full "column" of signal in the path between here and the molecular cloud. They key is we assume the atmosphere is relatively uniform across the time of the measurement so the telescope actually moves and points away from the source to collect a "background". This allows us to remove any signal coming from the atmosphere.

Additionally we can see the temperature these molecules are at. For this example the molecule is only sitting at a few K which is far too cold to be in the earths atmosphere (even the upper atmosphere).

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (2)

ibmleninpro (2859905) | about a year ago | (#43112373)

I'm not an astronomer, but this is likely solved by atmospheric subtraction. The telescope gets pointed to a specific radio-quiet area in space, and everything that shows up get subtracted out. I don't know if this is the exact process (I worked on the laboratory part of this experiment, as I'm a chemist), but I'd wager it's pretty close to that.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year ago | (#43122069)

re : (I worked on the laboratory part of this experiment, as I'm a chemist),
.
Ah, so you measured the spectra of the organic compounds in the laboratory environment for comparison to the astronomical observations, eh? Very cool... Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (5, Interesting)

ibmleninpro (2859905) | about a year ago | (#43112415)

I should also add that it's possible to even map out a molecule's "location" in a region of space. We've done some work with spatially-resolved studies of nitrile-containing molecules (which is where these discoveries came out of) where you can see the specific regions of the cloud where these molecules are most abundant. You can learn a ton about the formation of these molecules from this, since the cloud is actually quite a chaotic beast -- there are cold patches, like temperatures below 20 K, then there are patches where the temperature is 100 K or even more. The chemistry is very drastically different in each of these areas, and learning about which molecules show up where tells us a ton about molecular formation processes in a star-forming region.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

CODiNE (27417) | about a year ago | (#43112185)

How does this speak to the statistical probability of amino acids forming protein chains? What would the density of them be and in comparison to an earthly origin would there be greater or lesser odds?

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (4, Informative)

ibmleninpro (2859905) | about a year ago | (#43112387)

It doesn't really resolve any of these issues. This is really a result about the formation of simple biomolecules, like glycine (in the case of ethanimine) or adenine (cyanomethanimine). In other words, this is a hint towards solving the mystery of why we have amino acids in the first place, and nothing towards figuring out the synthesis of more complex structures.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

smpoole7 (1467717) | about a year ago | (#43115547)

> It doesn't really resolve any of these issues.

I'm reminded of a comment made to me once by one of your fellow chemists. This guy was sharp, had even published a few papers in the literature.

I'm going from memory, but it went something like this: "you know," he said, "over in the Chemistry department, we're spending zillions of dollars, in state of the art laboratories, with tons of carefully-calibrated equipment, just to figure out how to synthesize a chemical from a sample obtained from nature.

"And yet, across the campus in the biology department, they're proposing that DNA and RNA and proteins and all that were somehow assembled by lightning and thunder and smoke and falling asteroids."

(The rivalries between scientific disciplines amuse me sometimes.)

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43117441)

A large chunk of chemistry is not just about production, but about production yields. In many areas and projects, it wouldn't be acceptable to say, "Well, there is a couple molecules in there, lets wait a few millennia to get a useful quantity."

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43117527)

There could easily be a cutoff in complexity for a given location, depending not just on the density of component molecules, but also depending on the influx of UV and other radiation that can disassemble molecules too. While individual amino acids may be stable enough to stick around and accumulate enough to be detected, and you may get dimers to form, but if they get destroyed too quickly, the probability of more complex chains goes down quickly.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112209)

Please explain some of the principles that help you figure out the molecular structure of substances in gas clouds light years away.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (4, Funny)

Type44Q (1233630) | about a year ago | (#43112761)

I'm on one of the graduate students on this project!

I trust it's consensual? :p

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43113485)

>>I'm on one of the graduate students on this project!

>I trust it's consensual? :p

Do you think ibmleninpro would be able to post on /. at the same time if it wasn't consensual?

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

symbolset (646467) | about a year ago | (#43112831)

Any thoughts on the contributions of wandering comets passing between stars to the distribution of these substances over time? It's a contemporary question since the comet that's scheduled to just miss Mars (but Mars may pass through its halo and hence catch some of its composition) may be hyperbolic.

Re:Hey, wait a sec... (1)

tbonefrog (739501) | about a year ago | (#43124753)

Very interesting. My specialty is mathematics and I am somewhat of a science critic, so I shouldn't have an opinion but that has never stopped me before.

What OTHER complex chemicals are found in the dust clouds in the universe?

While there is naturally an interest in detecting our own Earth-based type of life, I feel we can get distracted by DNA-centric prejudice and may be missing out on the chemical precursors of other types of life that may even predominate in the universe.

As a meta-scientist I looked for people working on this and was relieved to find Lee Cronin http://www.ted.com/talks/lee_cronin_making_matter_come_alive.html [ted.com] but he isn't too interested in extraterrestrial life, he just wants to create his own inorganic life.

I'm just as interested in what other complex chemicals could be found on meteorites.

Since you are a grad student I thought it would be good to ping you on this. You could become the Galileo of non-carbon-based astrobiology.

There could be such life lurking very near to us in the solar system, but if we aren't looking for it, it could find us before we find it.

Fermi Paradox (5, Interesting)

dcmcilrath (2859893) | about a year ago | (#43111921)

The Fermi Paradox, this thing [wikipedia.org] , says that we should not only have encounted "life" by now, but we should have encountered life at least as complex as ours over and over again by now.

Kinda creepy to think about the endless possibilities out there. To quote Douglas Adams: "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space"

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112017)

Not to argue with Adams, but it's more like the minute molecule of "peanut stuff" that causes some allergic kid to die when he inhaled it than a whole peanut, much less peanuts, plural.

Re:Fermi Paradox (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112613)

Well done for trying to interpret a figure of speech literally.

Re:Fermi Paradox (2, Insightful)

physburn (1095481) | about a year ago | (#43112147)

May be it takes a very long time to evolve complex life, life was single celled for over a billion years, before multicellar life came about, may be that step is even rarer than we throught and earth just got lucky.

Re:Fermi Paradox (2)

flayzernax (1060680) | about a year ago | (#43112725)

I have heard some serious claims that life is pretty ubiquitous in space dust but its not commonly accepted or known about. See conspiracy. There's now been several meteors that have made noise in the scientific community which are still hotly debated by people that care to. There has also been interesting spectroscopy from mars. The scientific data from viking is still interpretable as proof for life rather then dis-proof. Its just not enough data to say "Yes life for sure". Tons of blogs and articles roaming the interwebs.

http://earthsky.org/space/did-the-viking-landers-find-life-on-mars-in-1976 [earthsky.org] illustrates what I am trying to say.

I think we won't know until theres a few hundred thousand of us all working and living in space and at that point knowledge like this will be common because the level of data collection and interaction amongst humanity will be great enough to overcome any obstacles.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

Man Eating Duck (534479) | about a year ago | (#43125945)

You seem to be claiming that there is ample evidence of extraterrestrial life, but it's covered up. If I misinterpreted your post, my apologies. If I did not, it's futile to respond, but consider this:

There are tens of thousands of people working on various projects, in various capacities, that would have access to this evidence. *All of them* (and their wives) would have to keep their mouths shut in order for your conspiracy to work. I cannot even imagine which sets of different motivations must be necessary for a group of such disparate people to all keep quiet.

Furthermore all a conspiracy nut would have to to is to get training in some relevant capacity: Scientist, computer technician, IT technician, lab worker, data analyst, sub-contractor, etc etc, and get a job at one of the facilities operating this equipment. Hell, even an inquisitive janitor should be able to get at the covered-up evidence of reality shows from Alpha Centauri.

I'll leave it to you and Mr. William of Occham's shaving implement to conclude why such a conspiracy hasn't been uncovered.

Sounds like a flying spaghetti monster (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43111941)

Prove it.

His imagination is better than mine. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#43112069)

See, no matter how hard I squint at it, the best I have seen in a galactic cloud is an giraffe being chased by a lion. Long back I could not get past bunny rabbits or ice cream cones. But by and by I got better and now I see more dynamic pictures in these clouds. Takes a lot of squinting though. But these guys are good. Way better than me! They saw a clue to the origin of life.

Wait, are you thinking what I am thinking? Are they just teenagers with raging hormones who see images of "origin of life" in everything?

pre-cursors of life? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43112457)

Yet more buzz words to entice funding. You could have all the cursors and pre-cursors of life themselves and it still wouldn't be life as we know it/define it. Just dig up any buried body and there you have it all, but yet it's not life, unless you know of some way to reanimate the dead? Do you know how to make zombies?

Why aminoacids? (3, Interesting)

RicardoKAlmeida (2790435) | about a year ago | (#43112621)

Life on Earth is made of strings. The beads are amino acids, nucleic acids. Why acids? Is there a thermodynamic reason this specific organization is the most likely to become alive? Or it's just Earth's environment 3 billion years ago, the specific context that determined amino acids and nucleic acids as the building blocks? A local set of constraints determines the most likely solution. How many different sets of constraints are there in the Universe? How many different solutions they determine?

Clues of Life's Origins Found In Galactic Cloud (1)

danielpauldavis (1142767) | about a year ago | (#43112999)

Molecules mean nothing. When y'all figure out how to use random methods to arrange ALL of the amino acids laevo-rotarily, we'll talk.

Re:Clues of Life's Origins Found In Galactic Cloud (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43113281)

It isn't random, it's chemistry [talkorigins.org] .

Apon Further Investigation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43113487)

Later, Hubble snapped this picture [ggpht.com] of the cloud in question.

God put that there to trick you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43115323)

Just like dinosaur bones. God made a man with tits before everything else.

Fate of the Green Bank Telescope (2)

TMB (70166) | about a year ago | (#43116601)

To any of you who think this is cool science and want to make sure more of it gets done: The GBT is under very severe threat of shutting down. In the recent NSF Portfolio Review, it was recommended that given the "current" funding situation (this was last year), the NSF divest itself of certain observatories including Green Bank. That means the telescope will shut down, unless a private consortium (i.e. of universities) can scrape together enough money to take it over.

Note also that the "current" funding situation referred to was even before the sequester, so the chances of getting the NSF to change their minds have dropped significantly - there is just not enough money in the budget. But please lobby your congressional representatives to restore funding for basic research if you think this is important!

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