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Are the Molecules of Life Right-Handed or Left-Handed?

3 May 2021, 17:48 UTC
Are the Molecules of Life Right-Handed or Left-Handed?
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Molecules are found in the hard vacuum of interstellar space, in the same places where new stars and planetary systems form. How complex can these molecules get? We have found that rich organic chemistry (the chemistry of molecules made of carbon atoms) is happening in space, and molecules related to life processes composed of over a dozen atoms are found in the same places where future solar systems are forming. Depending on how, when, and where the planets in these solar systems form, these molecules will affect their composition, and given the right conditions, complex molecules may seed primitive worlds with the building blocks of life. Radio observations of chemistry provide a unique way to study the formation of planets themselves, as their composition depends on the region where they formed in the proto-solar nebula—gas clouds that formed the sun and the planets—and these regions are in turn home to unique chemical species.

Propylene oxide is one of a class of so-called “chiral” molecules — molecules that have an identical chemical composition, but right- and left-handed versions. Chiral molecules are essential for life and their discovery in deep space may help scientists understand why life on Earth relies on ...

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