Molecules Found in Orion Nebula

on March 20, 2010
Share: “Life-Enabling Molecules Spotted in Orion NebulaIt isn’t alien life, but it’s the closest thing to it that routinely excites astronomers: the stuff that life is made of.

Finding chemical compounds that also exist in life-forms is cause for excitement.

The Herschel Space Observatory has detected the chemical signatures of “potentially life-building molecules” in the Orion nebula, reports. (The vast Orion nebula lies some 1,350 light-years away from Earth and is thought to be a star-forming region.)

The report notes that the discovery included identification of “a few common molecules that are precursors to life-enabling molecules, including water, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methanol, dimethyl ether, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur oxide and sulfur dioxide.”

The University of Michigan’s Edwin Bergin, one of the Herschel Space Observatory’s principal investigators, said that the data and similar data in the future “will provide a virtual treasure trove of information regarding the overall chemical inventory and on how organics form in a region of active star formation.”

As with nearly all astrobiology studies, however, the spin on Herschel’s discovery suggests the erroneous view that life is little more than a mixture of the right ingredients. Finding chemical compounds that also exist in life-forms is cause for excitement. But if life required a designer, the existence of prebiotic compounds no more implies life than a pile of unrefined metal implies a steel skyscraper. As long as astrobiologists ignore this fact, however, signs of “potentially life-building molecules” will be interpreted as having the potential to build life (through chance interaction) out of themselves.

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