Astronomers have discovered the first negatively charged molecule in space, identifying it from radio signals that were a mystery until now. While about 130 neutral and 14 positively charged molecules are known to exist in interstellar space, this is the first negative molecule, or anion, to be found.
“We’ve spotted a rare and exotic species, like the white tiger of space,” said astronomer Michael McCarthy of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
By learning more about the rich broth of chemicals found in interstellar space, astronomers hope to explain how the young Earth converted these basic ingredients into the essential chemicals for life.
This new finding helps to advance scientists’ understanding of the chemistry of the interstellar medium, and hence the birthplaces of planets.
This research appeared in the Dec. 1, 2006, issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.