Chemical factories around young stars may give rise to far more complex molecules than previously thought.
Relatively complex, carbon-containing molecules are found in comets and on nearby planets, thought to have been made elsewhere in our Solar System.
But a report in Nature suggests even larger molecules may be forged near young stars and flung outwards.
The find adds to a large body of often conflicting evidence about the origin of our Universe’s complex molecules.
The team behind the work says that “stellar organics” may have been delivered to the early Earth, but that suggestion remains to be confirmed by future observations.
Much of the chemistry that happens elsewhere in the cosmos remains mysterious, leaving astronomers to guess how nature assembles molecules.
It has until recently been assumed that fairly simple molecules could be assembled in the areas around young stars, while more complex materials form in cooler conditions.
Adding to the mystery, though, have been “unidentified infrared emissions”, or UIE, emanating from a range of sources in our galaxy and beyond.
This infrared light must come from molecular vibrations – the waggling of one atom relative to another within molecules that have absorbed light of higher frequencies from other sources. Light in the infrared is then emitted as the wagglings die out.
Like the strings of a piano, each molecular vibration has its own note, but the unidentified infrared emissions are a rich, dense “chord” of notes that makes the nature of the emitting molecules extremely difficult to unpick. …