SETI [ASTRO] Formic Acid Found Toward Hot Galactic Molecular Cores

Larry Klaes (
Fri, 02 Jul 1999 10:28:10 -0400

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>Date: Fri, 2 Jul 1999 5:14:32 GMT
>From: Ron Baalke <>
>Subject: [ASTRO] Formic Acid Found Toward Hot Galactic Molecular Cores
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>July 1999
>Formic acid found toward hot galactic molecular cores
>CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- In their continuing quest for large interstellar
>radio astronomers at the University of Illinois have located dense clumps
>of formic acid -- the simplest organic acid -- inside the hot star-forming
>cores in three interstellar molecular clouds.
>"On Earth, formic acid is the colorless, pungent liquid found in ant bites,
>bee stings and nettle bristles," said Lewis E. Snyder, a U. of I.
professor of
>astronomy. "In space, formic acid is of great interest because it shares
>similar structural elements with the common interstellar molecule methyl
>formate and the biologically important molecules acetic acid and glycine."
>Acetic acid was discovered in space in 1996 by a team of researchers led
>by U. of I. research scientist David Mehringer and Snyder. Glycine has not
>yet been confirmed in interstellar space.
>Glycine is the simplest biologically important amino acid. "All that is
>needed to form glycine is to combine acetic acid and ammonia, which was
>discovered in space in 1969," Snyder said. "So it is plausible that simple
>amino acids do form in space."
>Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and DNA. Because of the
>connection between formic acid and glycine, detections of formic acid
>sources "will provide important constraints on future searches for glycine
>sources," Snyder said. "We can use formic acid as a Rosetta stone to help
>identify regions in space where more complex, biologically important
>molecules might be located."
>In interstellar space, formic acid was first identified in 1970 and
>subsequently studied with single-element telescopes. For the recent
>measurements, however, graduate student Sheng-Yuan Liu, Mehringer
>and Snyder used the 10 telescopes of the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland
>Association (BIMA) millimeter array near Hat Creek, Calif.
>"Interferometric observations of this kind provide the sharpest possible
>pictures of these regions, revealing the spatial location and distribution
>of emission from the molecule," said Liu, who presented his team's findings
>at a meeting in Chicago of the American Astronomical Society on June 3.
>"We have detected formic acid toward the hot cores in three molecular
>clouds: Sagittarius B2, Orion and W51."
>Hot cores are high-temperature, high-density compact regions in molecular
>clouds where stars and possibly planetary systems are forming. "These are
>regions where complex molecules are often found, so they provide a test
>bed for probing interstellar dust grain chemistry," Liu said.
>Interstellar dust grains -- the seeds for the formation of planetary
>systems -- are thought to have played a crucial role in synthesizing
>complex molecular species like formic acid, acetic acid and glycine on
>the early Earth to help start prebiotic organic chemistry.
>The formic acid observations were supported by the Laboratory for
>Astronomical Imaging in the U. of I. astronomy department and the National
>Science Foundation.

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