Scientists In Australia Discover Chiral Molecule Outside Solar System First Time

Posted: Jun 15 2016, 12:16am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Scientists in Australia Discover Chiral Molecule Outside Solar System First Time
Scientists applaud the first detection of a "handed" molecule, (propylene oxide) in interstellar space. It was detected, primarily with the NSF's Green Bank Telescope, near the center of our Galaxy in Sagittarius (Sgr) B2, a massive star-forming region. Credit: B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF from data provided by N.E. Kassim, Naval Research Laboratory, Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Like a pair of human hands, certain organic molecules have mirror-image versions of themselves, a chemical property known as chirality. These so-called "handed" molecules are essential for biology and have intriguingly been found in meteorites on Earth and comets in our Solar System. None, however, has been detected in the vast reaches of interstellar space, until now.

Australia's Parkes Observatory telescope has discovered a molecule which displays key attributes associated with life, in a breakthrough set to help scientists solve the mystery of biology in space.

Chirality, or "handedness" is a key attribute related closely with life, but homochirality, or being exclusively either "left or right handed", has never been discovered outside of Earth, until the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's (CSIRO's) Parkes telescope found the 'handed' molecule propylene oxide.

Dr John Reynolds, Director of Operations at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, said the discovery will give scientists the chance to further research how the Universe can contribute to sustaining life, Xinhua reported.

"This discovery gives us a window into how an incredibly important type of molecule is made in space, and gives us the chance to understand the impact that process may have on life in the universe," Reynolds said in a statement on Wednesday.

Typically, many molecules exist in forms that are mirror images of each other, but molecules associated with life, such as proteins, enzymes, amino acids and sugars are found to be made up of a single handedness.

Propylene oxide is a common homochiral compound used in making polyurethane plastics, and was discovered by the radio telescope in an interstellar cloud near the center of the Milky Way.

The cloud, known as Sagittarius B2, is actively forming stars, and Reynolds said scientists would follow the developments in the region to see if the Universe divulges any further secrets about the potential of life in outer space.

"Understanding how this came about is a major puzzle in biology, " he said.

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