Apparently the unifying logic of the Universe has a sweet n' sour tooth! Ethyl formate, which gives raspberries their flavour and smells of rum, has now been found in deep space, the center of our galaxy. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, were searching for evidence of amino acids ~and consequently evidence of the building blocks of life~ in a giant dust cloud at the heart of our Milky Way when they came up with the surprising discovery.
Amino acids found in interstellar space can be said to be astrobiologists' Holy Grail because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins (critical for complex life to exist anywhere in the universe); a fact which would therefore indicate the possibility of emerging life on other planets after being seeded with the molecules.
In 2008, astronomers Arnaud Belloche and Robin Garrod almost managed to come across amino acids in space when they discovered amino acetonitrile, a molecule that can be the building block of aminoacids and consequently proteins. Previously, astronomers had detected a variety of large molecules, including alcohols, acids and chemicals called aldehydes. Those chemicals form when pre-existing chemicals on dust grains, such as ethanol, link together to make more complex chains. But recent discoveries suggest the molecules are as large as the simplest amino acid, glycine, which is heartnening.
The astronomers used the IRAM telescope in Spain to shift through signals and electromagnetic radiation emitted by Sagittarius B2, a dust cloud around a newborn star at the centre of our galaxy. Failing to locate any aminoacids, they nevertheless came across ethyl formate, a chemical responsible for the flavour of raspberries. But ethyl formate has another distinguishing quality that ties it with scent ~it smells of rum! Talk about boozy -inspired creation! Yet evidence for the deadly chemical propyl cyanide was also present in the same cloud, making them the largest yet discovered molecules in deep space and food for philosophical thought around the duality of life and death; but perhaps that's fodder for another discussion.
In a witty quip Belloche replied as to whether the galaxy tastes of raspberries that: "[Ethyl formate] does happen to give raspberries their flavour, but there are many other molecules that are needed to make space raspberries!" Dr Belloche and his colleague Robin Garrod at Cornell University in New York have amassed nearly 4,000 distinct signals from Sagitarius B2, analysing about half of them so far. "We have identified around 50 molecules in our survey, and two of those had not been seen before" said Belloche. The results are being presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science at the University of Hertfordshire.
News via Guardian.co.uk, pic Raspberries, Rubus ideaus L, after passive self-pollination (left and middle) and open insect pollination (right). (Photo by Jim Cane, Bee Research Institute, Longan, USA) via what-is-this.com