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ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory has discovered organic molecules in the Orion Nebula – potential signs of life.
The Far Infrared (HIFI) spectrometer has detercted a rich, dense pattern of ‘spikes’, each representing the emission of light from a specific molecule in the Orion Nebula.
Among the molecules identified by ESA are water, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methanol, dimethyl ether, hydrogen cyanide, sulphur oxide, sulphur dioxide and their isotope analogues.
ESA is working on identifying many other emission lines, and expects to find new organic molecules as well.
Astronomers are now beginning to tease out the signature of particularly interesting molecules that are the direct precursors to life-enabling molecules.
“This HIFI spectrum, and the many more to come, 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,” says Edwin Bergin of the University of Michigan, principal investigator of the HEXOS Key Programme on Herschel.
“It harbours the promise of a deep understanding of the chemistry of space once we have the full spectral surveys available.”