Alcohol haze at galactic heart
Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse
"The detection of yet more alcohol in a giant molecular cloud near the centre of our galaxy could give clues to the origin of complex organic molecules in space.Astronomers have long been seeking evidence of this particular alcohol to help explain how these life-promoting substances got started. ... Vinyl alcohol, actually a non-inebriating complex organic molecule, is an important part of many chemical reactions on Earth, and the last of the three stable members of the C2H4O group of molecules to be discovered in interstellar space. It was detected in a massive molecular cloud called Sagittarius B2, located 26,000 light-years from Earth, near the centre of our galaxy....The specific radio signature of vinyl alcohol was first detected using a 12-metre radio telescope during May and June of 2001. Results from the observations will soon be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Of the approximately 125 molecules so far detected in interstellar space, scientists believe that most are formed by a simple process in which smaller molecules (and occasionally atoms) stick together after they collide. Since the 1970s, scientists have speculated that molecules could form on the microscopic dust grains that drift in interstellar clouds. These dust grains are thought to trap the fast-moving molecules. The surface of these grains could act as a catalyst enabling the chemical reactions that form vinyl alcohol and other complex molecules. "Scientists speculate that since the dust lies near an area where young stars are forming, the energy from these stars could evaporate the icy surface layers of the grains, liberating the molecules from their chilly nurseries, depositing them into interstellar space where they can be detected by sensitive radio antennae on Earth.