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Prebiotic Nonsense

on April 4, 2009
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ScienceDaily: “Does Prebiotic Material Exist in Outer Space?” Astrobiologists may be a step closer to identifying prebiotic compounds in space. Now all they have to do is find the compounds!

Astrophysicists Guillermo Muñoz and Emmanuel Dartois have discovered an infrared absorption band that could signal the existence of oxygen- or nitrogen-rich organic material in interstellar dust grains, ScienceDaily reports. If astronomers detect this infrared signature, it may indicate the presence of amino acids in space.

The problem is that scientists have never observed the “yellow stuff infrared band” in space.

In the lab, the scientists attempted to recreate interstellar conditions by combining gases at extremely low pressure and temperature. The duo then irradiated ice in the environment; the result was a “yellowish substance” containing carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen in organic molecules such as carboxylic acids, glycine, and other amino acids. The team then matched the substance with an absorption band on the infrared spectrum. If telescopes detect an absorption band on that spectrum, it would signal the discovery of a substance similar to what Muñoz and Dartois created in the lab.

The problem is that scientists have never observed the “yellow stuff infrared band,” as ScienceDaily puts it, in space. But Muñoz and Dartois speculate that other forms of organic compounds may exist with an absorption band different to the yellow substance.

While the astrophysicists’ work to determine the spectrum of the “yellow stuff” is interesting, what’s more important is the gap it reveals between “prebiotic compounds” and life. Not only has this substance not been found in space; the substance has been “found” (i.e., made) in a lab on earth but clearly isn’t turning into life!


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