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Scientists Discover Complex Molecules in Dark, Interstellar Clouds, Call it a 'Major Breakthrough'

Researchers have uncovered a warehouse-full of complex molecules in cold, dark interstellar clouds.. (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian/Twitter)

Researchers have uncovered a warehouse-full of complex molecules in cold, dark interstellar clouds.. (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian/Twitter)

PAH are hydrocarbon compounds formed of two or more fused aromatic rings of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Their presence in space was suspected since the 1980s but this is the first time it has been confirmed.

Scientists are always looking for compounds in space that can be found on Earth. These compounds can help discover the origins of the world, deduce what other worlds look like, and learn more about the mysterious cosmos. The latest discovery which has astronomers holding their breath is the presence of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) in Interstellar Medium. PAH are hydrocarbon compounds formed of two or more fused aromatic rings of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Their presence in space was suspected since the 1980s but this is the first time it has been confirmed.

According to Dr. Brett McGuire, an astronomer at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, MIT and National Radio Astronomy Observatory, around 25% of the Universe’s total carbon is contained in PAHs.

“Now, for the first time, we have a direct window into their chemistry that will let us study in detail how this massive reservoir of carbon reacts and evolves through the process of forming stars and planets,” he was quoted by Sci-News.

PAHs are colourless mostly, but some can be white, or pale-yellow solids. They can occur naturally or be a by-product of anthropogenic sources (larger portion). Common natural sources include forest or bushfires and volcanic eruptions. Whereas Anthropogenic sources are industrial operations, incineration, vehicular emissions and power generation among other pyrolytic processes.

The scientists have been studying TMC-1 around 440 light-years away from Earth. It’s present around constellation of Taurus and previous observations have suggested complex carbon molecules presence.

In the cloud core, benzonitrile, a six-carbon ring attached to a nitrile group, has been observed. They used data from Green Bank Telescope for this discovery. Along with benzonitrile, two other molecules, 1- and 2-cyanonaphthalene signatures were also observed.

Dr. Kelvin Lee, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and MIT called this discovery “a major leap forward in astrochemistry.”

Previously believed to be a leftover from dying stars, now the scientists believe they were actually built-up from smaller molecules.

The results of the study have been published in the journal Science.