Found a new molecule in space

A new molecule has been found in interstellar space, which has not been found there before. This 2-methoxyethanol is a fairly complex, but not so important substance for the existence of life. Nevertheless, it shows how chemical evolution can take place in space.

A new molecule in space. Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A new molecule in space

A team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced the discovery in space of a new molecule called 2-methoxyethanol. In fact, it has been obtained on Earth for a long time, although it is not very well known. But it was really found in space for the first time. The article with the research is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The ALMA radio telescope helped the scientists in this. A giant array of antennas helped to explore the NGC 6334I and IRAS 16293-2422B gas and dust clouds. Scientists were interested in regions where star formation was actively occurring. They wanted to establish what kind of substances were present there, and they came across a really new molecule.

In general, various methoxy have already been detected in space. They are, for example, dimethyl ether, methoxymethanol, ethyl methyl ether and methyl formate. However, a new molecule is always interesting. 2-methoxyethanol consists of thirteen atoms and this is really rich by the standards of interstellar chemistry. So far, only six larger molecules have been found in cold gas and dust clouds.

The discovered molecule cannot be called super-important for the existence of life. Therefore, it will not give anything particularly new for its search. However, it shows that in the process of chemical evolution, really large molecules can be formed directly in outer space.

Rotational spectroscopy

The use of rotational spectroscopy played a key role in the new study. Usually, the presence of some substances far away in space is determined by the presence of absorption and radiation lines in their spectra, which are a kind of “fingerprints” remaining after the interaction of molecules with electromagnetic radiation.

In this case, the presence of these lines is determined simultaneously by the rotation, oscillation and vibration of molecules in the gas phase. But it is possible to obtain a spectrum of molecules that is determined only by their rotation. And this method makes it much better to determine the presence and structure of complex molecules than the traditional one.

The problem with 2-methoxyethanol is that its rotational spectrum has been unknown. Therefore, it had to be studied on Earth first. But then scientists managed to reliably confirm its existence in space.

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