We have all heard over the past few years that scientists have intensified the search for extraterrestrial life. Finding one of the main building blocks of life, amino acids, would mean that the probability of alien life existing on other planets is very, very high. Astronomers have been studying the giant dust cloud at the center of the Milky Way, called Sagittarious B2, for evidence of such amino acids, and while they did not find exactly what they were looking for, the came to a surprising conclusion based on the chemical composition of this dust cloud: The center of our galaxy tastes like raspberries and smells like rum. Yes, you read correctly and no, this is not a joke.
The substance that we are talking about is ethyl formate, and it is responsible for giving raspberries their wonderful flavor. Arnaud Belloche, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, stated in an interview, “It does happen to give raspberries their flavor, but there are many other molecules that are needed to make space raspberries.” Besides this very distinguishing characteristic of deliciousness, ethyl formate also happens to have the smell of rum.
The astronomers involved in this research used the IRAM telescope to do data analysis on electromagnetic radiation emitted by the hot, dense region of Sagittarious B2 which surrounds a newborn star. The radiation from the star is absorbed by the molecules that are floating around it, and then re-emitted at different energy levels depending on he molecule. This is how they were able to tell what some of the chemicals floating around this dust cloud are. They also found traces propyl cyanide, a lethal chemical, in the same cloud. Belloche claims, “So far we have identified around 50 molecules in our survey, and two of those had not been seen before.”
The results of their findings were presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science at the University of Hertfordshire.
As for their original goal of searching the galaxy for amino acids, they are getting closer every day to discovering a possible origin of life. Last year, the team discovered a molecule which is used to build amino acids, called amino acetonitrile, floating around in space. This very much boosted the scientists’ morale, because those molecules are as large as the simplest amino acid, glycine. Belloche stated, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we find an amino acid out there in the coming years… The difficulty in searching for complex molecules is that the best astronomical sources contain so many different molecules that their ‘fingerprints’ overlap and are difficult to disentangle.”
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for them and hope they find something soon!
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