Strange: Astronomers have discovered alcohol in space. Here's what we know so far

Credit image: Y. Beletsky, LCO/ESO - The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope in Chile
Credit image: Y. Beletsky, LCO/ESO - The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope in Chile

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 08 July 2022, at 03:21 am Los Angeles time

Astronomers have discovered probably the strangest molecules they could in space.

They detected for the first time isopropyl alcohol in a "birth chamber" of stars, the massive star-forming region Sagittarius B2 in the center of our Milky Way galaxy reports The Independent.

The discovery was made by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany using the ALMA telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Over the decades, scientists have discovered 276 specific types of molecules, all under study.

"We're discovering molecules that are more and more complicated at the very early stages of star formation," said Rob Garrod, co-author of one of the studies from the University of Virginia in the US.

"Increasingly, we're looking at a situation where life is potentially being given a head start by the chemistry happening very early on in space, before even a planet is formed," Dr. Garrod explained.

How were alcohol molecules discovered?

Scientists have looked at the region in the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius B2 (SgrB2), which is known both for the formation of stars there, but also for the discovery of other molecules in the past.

In that region, scientists have recognized the emission of microwave energy from molecules floating there, sometimes difficult to distinguish.

Astronomers call "spectral confusion" the difficulties of identifying these organic molecules in a "stellar region."

All molecules emit specific frequencies or as researchers call the "spectral fingerprint"; the more spectral lines a molecule produces, the larger it is.

Differentiating them may seem difficult, especially in a fairly "intense" region, but the sensitivity of the ALMA telescope allows the observations to be successful.

"Our group began to investigate the chemical composition of Sgr B2 more than 15 years ago. These observations were successful and led in particular to the first interstellar detection of several organic molecules, among many other results," said Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.

In these long-term observations, the researchers discovered both forms of the molecule propanol, namely normal propanol, with -OH attached to a terminal carbon atom of the chain, and iso-propanol, with hydroxyl attached to the central carbon atom in the chain.

Propanol is an alcohol molecule that contains carbon atoms, hydrogen, and oxygen, existing in two forms, or isomers, depending on the carbon atom to which the hydroxyl (-OH) functional group is attached, according to The Independent.

The strange discovery will be able to help us learn more about the origins of life on Earth (or elsewhere in the Universe if it exists), by understanding the formation of molecules in our galaxy. 

Be the first to read what's new from space!