Here’s a cloud of stinky gas that’s far too large to blame on the dog: Sagittarius B2, a molecular cloud that’s just 100 light-years from our galaxy’s center. It might just be the closest thing to a burp from the Milky Way.
The cloud is particularly curious because it contains a relatively high concentration of organic molecules. It’s a galactic chemistry lab of sorts, a feature that, if you had a nose that could sniff in space, might make it one of the stinkiest places in the Milky Way, reports New Scientist.
Among the noxious fumes are chemicals like ethylene glycol, the syrupy and toxic mainstay in antifreeze, and acetic acid, with a taste like vinegar. There’s also plenty of ethanol, which probably makes it smell a bit like an alcoholic’s breath. Worst of all, though, is the hydrogen sulfide, which has the unmistakable stink of rotten eggs.
Not all the smells are awful, though. Scientists have also detected ethyl formate, which has a fruity, lemony scent. Perhaps it’s the galaxy’s way of compensating, a sort of cosmic attempt at an air freshener.
You’d definitely want to plug your nose if you were traveling through Sagittarius B2, but scientists have also found amino acetonitrile, a close relative of the simplest amino acid, glycine. The first-ever detection of an interstellar molecule with a branching carbon backbone was also found here. Taken together, this seems to indicate that complex amino acids might be capable of growing in space.
“We have nearly 200 molecules detected in the interstellar medium,” said Arnaud Belloche at the Max Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany. “It’s amazing to see how complex the chemistry in space can go.”
It’s even possible that clouds like Sagittarius B2 could represent “cradles of life” in the galaxy, chemical factories that churn out some of life’s foundational building blocks.
If true, it unfortunately means that life probably didn’t start with a biological equivalent of that “new car” smell. No, apparently it’s more like dirty diapers.
Credit: Bryan Nelson