The organic molecules that we find on the Earth can be found in space, too. That’s according to astronomer Anthony Remijan with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia. Remijan studies large molecules that formed in space – molecules that might be the building blocks of all life here on Earth.
Anthony Remijan: These are the basic chemical elements that build up the larger molecules that we find in biology today, things like amino acids and proteins.
Remijan and his colleagues pointed radio telescope dishes toward the center of our galaxy, a region called Sagittarius B2 North. They found faint radiation from 720 different space molecules, many of which are still unidentified.
Anthony Remijan: Some of the largest molecules are things that you actually find every single day in your own house: ethylene glycol which is actually an antifreeze, acetic acid which is in vinegar – even things like formic acid, which you find in bee and ant stings.
Remijan said that these precursors to life might have formed in the interstellar medium, the clouds of gas and dust between stars.
Anthony Remijan: We think that the molecules that formed in the interstellar medium got bottled up into comets and asteroids and meteorites, and then actually seeded early planets like the Earth in order to seed the chemistry necessary to drive this type of formation of large molecules.
Anthony Remijan: What is the real global, universal chemistry that’s going on? That’s happening in the interstellar medium. That’s happening in space.
Our thanks to:
Alma Commissioning and Science Verification Scientist
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Jorge Salazar has conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists in the process of creating science content for EarthSky. He also helps host the 90-second EarthSky podcasts. Jorge has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He knows a lot about a lot of different things. For EarthSky, he has explored subjects as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. His penetrating research style, poetic writing, and ability to track down and speak with Nobel prize-winning laureates, all make him a huge asset to EarthSky.