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Scientists Discover Interstellar ... Sugar? 159

Vicnice writes: "The discovery of simple sugars in the cosmos raises the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe a notch or two. Specifically, the sugar molecules were located in a gas cloud near the center of our galaxy. From the National Radio Astronomy Observatory release: "The scientists identified glycolaldehyde by detecting six frequencies of radio emission in what is termed the millimeter-wavelength region of the electromagnetic spectrum -- a region between more-familiar microwaves and infrared radiation."
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Scientists Discover Interstellar ... Sugar?

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  • Does this also suggest the presence of interstellar artificial sweetener?
  • by dR.fuZZo ( 187666 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @04:04PM (#987553)
    When speaking about how likely there are to be intelligent civilizations, people often refer to the Drake Equation []. Carl Sagan thought that the equation showed that there should be a significant number of civilizations. Although a recent book, Rare Earth [] has called into question how probable civilizations are.

    This is good news, though, adding a bit to the likelihood of their being other civilizations out there somewhere.
  • Man has made God in his own image, except that the clear-cut faults are explained away as miracles of the Faith, and not questioned under the pain of excommunication. We should all be so lucky. The Christian God is guilty of every crime in the book, in one way or another - for He is us, and we are He and we are all together, yea verily!

    Is there a God? Well, if there was not a God, what would life mean? Nothing! Is life meaningless? Do you want your life to mean nothing? I sure don't! Therefore, there is a God.

    So what you're saying is that God exists solely to add meaning to your otherwise worthless and meaningless life? Sounds like He has quite a job in front of Him.

    Are you also saying that people who have meaningful lives without Deity live in a Universe sans same? Are we beings from parallel Universes, occupying the same space-time continuum; some of us made in God's own image and some being naturally occuring phenomena?

    When I was 5, when I first heard about evolution, I asked my grandmother if people evolved from apes, or if they were made by God. She said that it depended on the person - God made some, the rest are directly related to monkeys. I finally grok what she meant. :)

    Once you see the light, follow me over and try Jesus for yourself.

    I personally prefer myself, but then again God smiles onto some and frowns onto others.
  • I remember in the Douglas Adams Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, he stated that anything of importance is not worth building because it will be found growing naturally on some planet somewhere. Kind of like the mattrasses or wrenches he talked about.
    Rather funny I thought
  • Slashdot is sarcasm impaired

    You have to bear in mind that this is a text based medium,sarcasm is hard to spot.
  • I mean it.


    "Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."-Paradise Lost, Book I, line 263
  • Hey moron, he was just nibbling at my flamebait. You, otoh, just need a little deprogramming. No wories :-)

  • It's people like you that make trolling so much fun. And all you other trolls out there - if you're going to troll (I rarely do) at least do it right for god's sake.

  • You have to bear in mind that this is a text based medium,sarcasm is hard to spot.

    But that's precisely what's so beautiful about it - you have only the words themselves to interpret what the poster really means. It such an encounter was face-to-face, this form of humor would be impossible. Either you use a sarcastic tone of voice, making it obvious to all, or you use a sincere tone, which screws it all up unless it is done perfectly. I love extracting meaning from this kind of stuff based on what is left unsaid.

    I guess my original plan was to post something likely to attract posts arguing with it, and then to those posts I would respond with something so outrageous that they would know I wasn't serious. When people still didn't grasp it, I upped it even more. After reading the resulting replies, I got frustrated as all heck ;-)

    Oh well, if some people laughed, it served its purpose. It sucks that all I get to see is the negative reactions.


  • I hope you are just another troller otherwise your statements are just plain ridiculous. You advise in your posts for these 2 groups to CEASE and DESIST and then you say that one of the views is pure nonsense.

    Thank Eris you are no Hostage Negotiator!!
  • Give Space Daddy Some Sugar!!!

    (fuck you, moderators!)
  • Those people were not actually created by Almighty God. They are creatures of a more demonic sort, and since their skin is not pure and white like that of decent folk, they are born hellbound, and need to know their place. Of course, some of the "softer" Christians make vallient efforts to convert the starving masses with a "food for conversions" type program. I wish them the best, even though they will burn in hell for associating with the filthy commoners.

    Oh! And if YOU feel you are ready, you too can try Jesus []!

  • OK, for once I can post about something I know about. I'm a grad student in the astronomy department at Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. I build instruments used to measure the millimeter and submillimeter wave emission from molecules, and use these instruments to study the star formation process. I'll try to explain how we can detect molecules in space, and how we can be sure what we're looking at. The molecule people look at the most is carbon monoxide (CO). This is a simple 2 atom molecule shaped like a dumbbell, with a carbon on one end and a oxygen on the other. When the molecule is excited through collisions with other particles or with photons, it can rotate, vibrate like two weights on a spring, or the electrons in each of the atoms can go into more energetic states. The kind of emission we measure with millimeter wave telescopes, like the one that possibly detected glucose, is rotation. Because of quantum mechanical effects, molecules cannot rotate at just any speed they want; they can only have very specific rotational speeds. When a molecule's rotation speeds up or slows down, it has to go from one permitted speed to another one. This makes the molecule emit radiation of a very particular frequency when it makes a fast to slow rotational speed transition. We can predict, with either pencil and paper calculations in the case of CO or with a computer simulation, in the case of glucose, exactly what these frequencies will be (the molecule's spectrum). Since every molecule has a different shape and configuration, every molecule has a unique spectrum. We can also measure a substance in the lab to determine what spectrum it has. A bunch of molecules in space will be composed of individual molecules all with different conditions, so when we look we see lots of different spectral lines corresponding to all the different rotational speed transitions. By looking at the intensity of each of the spectral lines (one of the specific frequencies) in comparison with the others, we can determine things like the gas temperature and density. This is easy with CO. The same telescope used for the glucose experiment was used to detect CO in the late 60s. For a wierd molecule like glucose, the situation is more complicated. The spectrum itself has lots more frequencies than CO, and each one is very weak. In addition, there have been almost 100 molecules discovered in space, which can make for some confusuion. The reason these guys believe they discovered glucose is that they found enough spectral lines in their spectrum in common with the lab spectrum of glucose that they think it couldn't be anything else.

    I hope this helps a little. You can learn more by looking at the webpage of my lab,

    note: all of our instruments run using Linux
    note: The guys who wrote the paper on Moore's law and slacking which appeared on /. a while ago are my fellow grad students and friends. While I didn't have anything to do with that, I thought it was pretty damn funny, especially that so many people on ./ took it seriously...
  • Interesting theory. I'm sure those scientists up there in space would be able to prove it, if they sobered up... (=

  • Because it's spelled "realizes"!
  • Actually, I know nothing about - I went on a short hunt for a suitably rediculous, preachy, evangelical, and patronizing site that would fit the mood of the post. When I found, my hunt was over.

    For your enjoyment, you can also check out, which presents a silly attempt at a new "hip", "totally rad", "awesome" and "amazing" face for Christianity, thus making it "cool" and "with it".

  • It is soooo nice to know that we finally have 'scientific' evidence that we exists, ie, that there is life in the universe. One would wonder why our very presents does not confirm it, but i guess there are those who must be 'scientifically' convinced. After all, i wouldn't want to have a theorm about there being life in the universe based merely on the fact that there is (us)life in the universe, that would be utterly preverse. Is there life on the moon, sillyboy, of course there is life on the moon. The moon is alive. Just because it has better sense than to join in your conversation pondering is there life in the universe when you know darn well that there is. Now maybe with this 'scientific' fact, we can start asking why other life forms do not talk to us. Then again, if you're still asking "is there life in the universe" maybe it's that they are ignoring us. Oh thank goodness once again that we have 'proof' that we exists. Not only do we exist, but now we have 'proof' that is is possible to exists!!! Is there somewhere i can apply to get some money paid to me to prove that the sun is hot? Or better still, that there might be other suns out there. Is this truely a great time to be alive...indeed it is...for now we know it is possible to be alive!!! What a breakthrough.
  • What makes grappler's posts more important than the rest that his posts start life at +2 automatically?

    Those people were not actually created by Almighty God. They are creatures of a more demonic sort, and since their skin is not pure and white like that of decent folk, they are born hellbound, and need to know their place.

    So much for love thy neighbor. Lets see, what proof do you have of this assertion? Oh that's right, the Bible. How is that authoritative? Oh that's right, because it just is, and perish the thought of thinking otherwise.

    This is reasoning I would expect from a 6 year old.

  • by Bill Currie ( 487 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @04:05PM (#987570) Homepage
    simple: the gas cloud is a bazillion miles across :)

    It's not really that difficult. If you can detect the could in the first place, you can get a spectrograph of the radiation coming from it. All chemical compounds have a unique spectrographic fingerprint (though they might sometimes get lost in the noise of other compounds) and thus can be easily detected.

    This is how helium was first discovered: somebody took a spectrogram of the sun and found some interesting spectral lines in it, applied some theory or other, and came up with helium.

  • It is a good thing to be sceptical, as long as you aren't also stubborn ^^

    Spectral analysis of the cloud and doing a statistical match; if the cloud absorbs several frequencies in the right proportions as a sugar, there is a good chance(not absolute) that there exists a sugar. But this doesn't rule out that there is something there *other* than sugar, just that there are things that have the same bond energies and structure as a sugar...

  • Check this webpage in less. His name is tmothy. Look closely at the i. Taco: could you filter the names please?
  • You easily could have found this link [] at, for want of a better source.

  • Actually, vision doesn't really have much to do with it. Some of us may have done some spectroscopy in high school (or university). The basic idea is that a particular molecule will accept electrons only at very specific energies, and that spectral analysis will show a deficiency of electromagnetic radiation at the specific wavelengths corresponding to those electron energies. These spectra are like fingerprints, which can identify the presence of even trace gasses millions of light years away.

    Finding sugar in a gas cloud is as simple as noting missing wavelengths corresponding to the sugar. This identification technique is so accurate that it can be used to detect the doppler effect, by figuring out the amount of red-shift that must occur to turn the spectrum of a known substance into the observed spectrum.

  • Moderators,

    The above poster ZanshinWedge [] is one of the proudest longtime members of BWUG [].

    I, being a loyal follower of ZanshinWedge []have found true serenity and happieness in learning, not just from his oh so insightful posts on Slashdot, but more from his teachings at The Open Source Legislative Focus Foundation [].

    In the OSLFF ZanshinWedge [] has taught many of us the finer tactics of "arrogance in thread" and "flame and get karma". The best part of this is that like ZanshinWedge [], you really don't need to know anything about what you're posting. A simple ME TOO! [] post works just fine.

    I may be out of line here, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that I think ZanshinWedge [] is the most insightful, interesting and mature poster we have on slashdot. I don't think anyone here would ever call him a whore, a bedwetter or a loser.

    Moderators, now that you know ZanshinWedge [] is truly deserving, make sure you drop a few points on him. He's deserves them for his insightful and interesting comment. Don't forget, all 22320 of us Meta-moderate, we'll make sure you get recognized for your efforts.

  • Here [] is a good overview of how to use spectral data (from optical or radio telescopes) to identify molecules in space.

    What the researchers in this case found was spectral lines for a single kind of molecule. That is, they found a bunch of "sugar" molecules emitting the same spectral lines. (Six lines, I think.)

    As for how many you need in the cloud, well that depends on the distance to the cloud and the sensitivity of the detector. The radio sky is fairly noisy, so you need many little molecules generating signal to pull out enough signal to see it above the noise. (If I weren't so lazy, I could do the math.) In this case, I'd guess they found a whole lot of this single kind of molecule.


  • Sorry, I mangled the URL above.

    It's here [].


  • Gimmefietysent!

  • So much for love thy neighbor. Lets see, what proof do you have of this assertion? Oh that's right, the Bible. How is that authoritative? Oh that's right, because it just is, and perish the thought of thinking otherwise.

    The Bible *IS* authorative allright.
    Look at the SOA !!!
    Now do you believe it's authorative ??

    eagle:/mp3# dig any

    ; > DiG 8.2 > any
    ; (1 server found)
    ;; res options: init recurs defnam dnsrch
    ;; got answer:
    ;; ->>HEADER ;; flags: qr aa rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 6, AUTHORITY: 2, ADDITIONAL: 3
    ;;, type = ANY, class = IN

    991115 ; serial
    6H ; refresh
    1H ; retry
    2w6d ; expiry
    6H ) ; minimum 6H IN MX 20 6H IN MX 10 6H IN A


    ;; ADDITIONAL SECTION: 16h59m14s IN A 6H IN A 6H IN A

    ;; Total query time: 475 msec
    ;; FROM: eagle to SERVER:
    ;; WHEN: Wed Jun 21 03:09:52 2000
    ;; MSG SIZE sent: 27 rcvd: 246
  • Use anti-freeze instead of sugar.
    It's the only way we can stop sugarman.
    Sure we couldn't defeat coffeeman or beerman or even that dirtbagpussie Bitterman but together we will defeat sugarman!

    And dont brinng up that Triangleman b.s. I havn't got the time to explain the metaphysical laws and logic falacies of that old TMBG arguemant. Stupid humans. Ooops! Did I think that out loud? Aargh! Frickin' Intellivoice! Stupid software! I'm gonna hack you into submission. WILL YOU MONKEYS STOP TYPING FOR ONE SECOND?! I'M TRYIN' TO WORK OVER HERE! Hee hee, my co-workers hate it when I call them monkeys. Still, they type so fast it's as if they got paid in Crack. Umm. What was I doing? Oh yeah!


    I order you humans to put anti-freeze in your coffee.
    surarman must be defeated!

    I cant wait to eat those stupid hairless apes.

  • Those are interesting questions. I think many of the variables don't have any sort of "agreed upon" values. For example, fl, the fraction of Earth-like planets where life actually develops. We only know of one. Some people would tell you that all "Earth-like" planets will evolve life, but that's highly debatable.

    As for our chances of visiting a civilization once we detected it, it may well be that by the time we would hear signals from a civilization, they'd already be long dead.

    The good news today is that this discovery (of simple sugars) seems to indicate that ne (the number of Earth-like planets) is higher than it might be otherwise. That is, there may be more planets out there with sugars like these than we previously thought.
  • Only if you are American...

  • Of course, the weight-conscious alien species will have gas clouds full of aspartame.

  • Is a doughnut a surface with a hole [or two?]?

    Or, is the doughnut a hole captured by a surface?

    Is there a doughBOLT somewhere? What kind of wrench fits a doughnut?

    Where are the baby pigeons?

    Who the hell is Natelie Portman?

    Hey wait a sec...

    This isn't Ask Jeeves!

    If I don't get back in ten minutes - avenge my death.

  • Caught another one!

    Trolling is fun ;-)

  • by osm ( 179439 )

    no doubt is going to be playing here! i MUST meet gwen stefani! i'm going to replace all occurrences of "natalie portman" in all of my stories with "gwen stefani" and show them to her! then i'm going to say, "hey baby, there's a buffalo refuge 20 minutes from here!" Gwen will reply, "oh, open-source man! i have seen the inspiration and love behind your open-source writings! i will go see the buffalo with you and then walk in your spiderwebs! i must call my good friend, natalie portman and have her join us!"


  • It's a suspension of only one thing, suspended in itself. Duh, even /I/ knew that one.

    Ever get the impression that your life would make a good sitcom?
    Ever follow this to its logical conclusion: that your life is a sitcom?
  • Those people were not actually created by Almighty God. They are creatures of a more demonic sort, and since their skin is not pure and white like that of decent folk

    Hang on... I really need to get this straight. You're actually touting this Identity Baptist "mud people" stuff? What's next? Kahzars and ZOG?

    Oh yeah, your tryjesus page uses the blink tag... that's worthy of eternal damnation righ there.

  • When we start finding Tootsie Rolls floating around in the cosmos, then we should really start wondering.
  • What about Milky Way Lite?(nt)

    Ever get the impression that your life would make a good sitcom?
    Ever follow this to its logical conclusion: that your life is a sitcom?
  • by Eimi Metamorphoumai ( 18738 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @03:50PM (#987591) Homepage
    I don't know about you, but once they find caffiene among the stars, I'll accept that extraterrestrial intelligence must exist. Until then, how can they stay up all night coding? I'm not even sure Terrestrial intelligence could continue without good-old 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine.
  • The subject of this thread takes on an ironic new meaning...

    What makes grappler's posts more important than the rest that his posts start life at +2 automatically?

    Because my posts speak the Truth, which is outlined for us in the Word which He gave us. Everyone knows that good Karma goes to followers of the Word.

    This is reasoning I would expect from a 6 year old.

    And I suppose you won't like this reasoning either:

    Is there a God? Well, if there was not a God, what would life mean? Nothing! Is life meaningless? Do you want your life to mean nothing? I sure don't! Therefore, there is a God.

    Once you see the light, follow me over and try Jesus [] for yourself.

  • If you were really a Christian, there would be more Jesus-praising in your post, and less blasphemy and talk of damnation. You can stop the act now - you're not fooling anyone.

    Repent, or expect to spend eternity in Hell! For more information, head over here [].

  • It's still spectral analysis.

    The electrons jump up and down levels on, say, copper, absorbing and emitting photons.

    However, the bonds between two carbon atoms are nothing more than electrons sharing the space between the two; they can *also* rearrange themselves in the energy configuration, and absorb and emit energies as well, but in different manners.

    So they detected the emission of radio frequencies when the sugar molecule rearranged itself. As it absorbed energy from space, it enters into higher energy states. When it 'emits' energy, it enters into a lower energy state. Statistically then, the combination of the energy spectra forms a pattern fairly unique to the sugar.

  • by hypergeek ( 125182 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @04:09PM (#987595)
    "Doesn't that stuff cause cancer in lab mice?"

    That's why Genetically Engineered "Smart Mice" [][tm] use real interstellar sugar!

  • Let me try that again. The angle brackets didn't come out right. Duh. The guy is using a non-ascii 'i' symbol.
  • Kind of makes you wonder if there are some interesting life forms living in the gas cloud independent of any one planet or star
    The picture showed plenty of hyperintelligent shades of blue.


  • i understand. but suppose it did - this wouldn't surprise me. at all. and that's what i was saying. it seems to me that it's inevitable that eventually we'll find life out there... or it'll find us. this might be nothing. but it might be something. either way, interesting.
    DeCSS source code! []
    you must amputate to email me.
  • > And yes, I know you're not the real timothy.
    > All you have to do is look at the source of a
    > page you've posted on and you'll see the
    > special character after the 'i'.

    Actually, you can see a funny accent on top of the 'i', if you look closely enough. You have even used Timothy's e-mail address. This is dishonest, Timothy impersonator. Shame on you.

  • Are you sure that's proof??

    Life formed in the prescence of amino acids and protiens; these were necessary for (our carbon-based form of) life to exist.

    Sugars and protiens, AFAIK, have a lot in common. It seems to me that these sugars could suggest a carbon-based-life-friendly environment, but do not necessarily prove that there is life.
  • Why is this moderated as a troll? Its FUNNY!
  • THANK YOU!!!

    Now tell that to Alex Pennance [] :-)

  • On the assumption that the light emitted is mostly the product of, say, stars. Hydrogen and helium have (I think) pretty well mapped out spectra. You can red and blue shift all you like, but the spectra looks the same, if a bit shifted in either direction.

    So you can use those two elements as landmarks to determine the sugar molecules.

  • What type of life? I imagine that only things that want proteins and other little critters that were used to would see sugar as edible. Lets not be too closed minded here.
  • Pink Stars... yellow moons... It only seems to make sense...
  • I never claimed to be a Christian... you just made a wild assumption based on zero evidence.

  • Are you the same racist Troll i had to smack down a couple of weeks back in a diferent Thread? Thank God (Whoops) you don't get about much. Must be devine intervention (Oh hell [Dang] there i go again). Oh, and as you seem to like using your +1 Bonus when it's inapropriate, i guess i'll use mine too. I won't be arguing with you any more, can't stand racists.
  • Hey, I saw you in the paper
  • Why don't you actually read the link in the story []? It explains it perfectly well.
  • Little is it known that this interstellar sugar is actually merely debris from the tail of a passing interstellar bunt cake comet.

    Grsyzylax, Imperial Grand Jester of the Chef Nebula, declined to comment.

  • I am trying my hardest to avoid any Mars puns....
  • by / ( 33804 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @04:15PM (#987612)
    Interstellar aspartame would be a wonderful discovery, inasmuch as aspartame consists of the two amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Amino acids aggregate into proteins, and we all know what proteins are good for; if it's extraterrestrial/interstellar life, then it's likely/perhaps cold and could use some enzymes.
  • by Mr. Flibble ( 12943 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @04:20PM (#987613) Homepage
    I don't think that its a hoax. A sugar molecule is a resonably simple CHO compound and given the amount of Carbod Hydrogen and Oxygen around in the universe I would say that its a safe bet that there is sugar out there.

    What *IS* a surprise is that there is sugar in large enough quantites to be detected.

    As for how they were detected, the article says:

    The discovery was made by detecting faint radio emission from the sugar molecules in the interstellar cloud. Molecules rotate end-for-end, and as they change from one rotational energy state to another, they emit radio waves at precise frequencies. The "family" of radio frequencies emitted by a particular molecule forms a unique "fingerprint" that scientists can use to identify that molecule. The scientists identified glycolaldehyde by detecting six frequencies of radio emission in what is termed the millimeter-wavelength region of the electromagnetic spectrum -- a region between more-familiar microwaves and infrared radiation.

    So, as the article says, they used a bit of spectrography (or radio spec as the case is). Its the same way that Helium was discovered in the sun before it was discovered on earth. (Helios --> meaning "sun" hence Helium.)

    According to the article and the information presented therin I would find it unlikely that it is a hoax. The beauty of a thing like this (and science in general) is that anyone else with a telescope capable of detecting this and a radio spectrometer can verify the results. Now, I don't have one. Still, I do know people who work at the Dominion Radio Astronomical Obseratory here in central B.C.

    Now, I am not going to go ask my friends to verify this - its just not worth my time. It does however show a good point: Good science can be replicated. You can bet that there are other scientists that upon seeing this result will point their telescopes at this portion of the sky and check.

    Myself, I would put money on this being good science and not bad science from the general tone of the article. It seems that the scientific method was followed, and a discovery was unvelied.

    In the end, even bad science turns into good science. It just takes time.
  • Alcohol has already been detected in space, and now sugar. All we need to find is the yeast and the hops. Perhaps the universe is just a giant brewery....


  • Ooooo, boxology is back!

    hehe, btw, nice ascii schematics

    Now, what's really cool about this finding (and several others) is not that there's stuff that's identical to what we have on Earth in comets etc., but all this adds up to much higher chances for life coming into existence other places in the universe.

    The three most important recent and/or semi-recent discoveries in this area are (IMO) the discovery that simple sugars exist in the interstellar medium, the discovery that asteroids contain salts, and the discovery (this is older) that comets contain amino acids. Put these things together and you get some INCREDIBLY interesting chemistry. Sugars and a phosphate salt form the backbone of nucleic acids (like DNA), sugars are a great source of energy as well as a great way to store it, simple strings of amino acids can do amazing things, when amino acid strings get long and complicated enough we call them proteins.

    These discoveries show that the fundamental elements of the goo that is required for life to emerge is present throughout the universe and in fairly high abundance. This means that provided a good place to "stew" for a while (which may be rare, we do not fully know yet) the chances for life coming about are very high indeed.

    Less than 50 years ago we had only a vague understanding of the factors that went into determing how rare / plentiful life and intelligent beings other than our own were in our universe. Now, we have narrowed down the ranges and gotten a good handle on most of these factors. A lot of this information has come in the last 5 to 10 years! There are now many more planets known to exist outside our good ol' Solar System than inside it, we now know of 2 other places inside our Solar System that have a good chance of being suitable places for life to exist, we know that almost any place that is suitable for life to exist on will most likely be deluged (relatively speaking) with the raw essence of the basics of life. This is truly an amazing time to be alive.

  • Does this mean we'll soon have space jam?
  • Only if you are American...

    This is the dozenth or so time I've seen stupid spelling flames like this.

    I'm half-tempted to adopt British spelling, to add a certain colour to my prose. I recognise that this may annoy some people left-of-centre of the IQ bell-curve, but I recommend they have a gin-and-tonic and bloody well bugger off, the bally wankers.

  • Sugar is a new one to me. However while I was doing my Ph. D. (in microwave spectroscopy, so I do know something about the subject) there were reports of methanol and ethanol being detected within dust clouds. Estimates of up to about 0.25 million metric tons or so of it.

    A whole host of other molecules have been discovered in space using microwave and infrared spectroscopy. To lower the technical requirement as far as I can, all you need is for the molecule to have a dipole or quadrupole.
  • by jd ( 1658 )
    Space sugars won't change the probability of extraterrestrial life, until they discover space toothpaste. Otherwise, Fred Hoyle's Black Clouds will all get tooth rot & die. (Or solve the mysteries of the Universe and spontaneously explode... :)
  • I have NFI about Chemistry but as far as i know glucose is just a string of amino acids strung together

    Sugars aren't "strings of amino acids strung together." Glucose and other sugars are strings of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, whilst amino acids contain nitrogen. If you don't know about a subject, you should simply not speak on that subject.
  • by YASD ( 199639 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @04:32PM (#987627)

    Cosmic sugar found
    Glycolaldehyde? how strange
    Why not...galactose?

  • if you can `see' it, you can analyse it's spectrum. Distance is irrelevant. This is how they know the chemical composition of stars many light years away, and this could is bigger than any star. It also has many stars behind it (if not in it) providing a nice backlight for spectrographic measurments.
  • Try opening a book everyonce in a while -hmmm
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday June 21, 2000 @02:35AM (#987635)
    I'm half-tempted to adopt British spelling

    I realize this might be controversial, but I suggest using a mixture of American and British spelling, and throwing in some olde english, and perhaps "nyew fonetik english" as well, just to give all ye grammar nazis a coronary.

    Is there anything funnier or more colourful than a spelling troll or grammar nazi twitching on the ground, lost in the throes of a severe stroke?
  • Restraint may be a prerequisite for racial survival.

    In other words, any species capable of surviving long enough to colonize another star may have done so only be learning restraint and respect for diversity: necessary lessons if they are not to destroy the very ecosystem which sustains their existence on the home world, not to mention avoid destroying themselves in petty conflicts.

    Such a species would find the notion of exponential growth intolerable: it would wipe out all other cultures and life forms in the galaxy in favor of their own, destroying biological and cultural diversity and, quite possibly, destroying the one species with the necessary insight to survive the next galaxy-wide cataclysm (e.g. 3 billion years from now, when the Milky Way and Andromeda are expected to collide).

    While humans are, as a rule, incapable of thinking in such terms and along such time scales, it is likely that a species able to survive sufficiently long to colonize other stars would take such considerations very seriously, and restrain their own growth accordingly.
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Wednesday June 21, 2000 @03:34AM (#987639) Homepage Journal
    Already some aminoacids have being found in the interstellar medium. Now it is sugars. Pretty soon we'll see that the entire set of molecules needed for life will be found in space.

    Some organic chemistry, simplified

    Types of elements used in life

    • the four elements HCNO comprise 95% of living matter (Table 7.1)
    • these elements are relatively abundant in the universe, therefore the basic composition of life is not itself a barrier
    • these elements have chemical properties which make them advantageous for use in life
    • carbon can form four bonds
    • carbon bonds with CNO are fairly strong (Figure 7.1)
      • C-N, C=N, C-O, C=O
    • oxygen readily reacts with carbon
    • both O and N exist as gases in the atmosphere which allows them to cycle through the environment (in solid and liquid form)
    • the abundance of "other" elements in life (e.g., Ca, P) resembles the abundance in sea water
    • this observation suggests that life arose in the oceans
    • these elements are used in small proportions and serve very specific functions, e.g., Zn in insulin and Fe in hemoglobin
      • indicative of a complex interaction between life and the environment
    Molecular Structures
    • life (1) stores and (2) transmits genetic information using polymers
    • a polymer is a molecule consisting of the repeated pattern of a small unit, where the units are called monomers
      • example: A-A-A-A-A-A is a polymer of the "A" monomer
      • example: A-B-A-B-A-B-A-B is a polymer, and both A and B are monomers
      • see Figure 7.3
    • these polymers store and transmit information by varying (1) the elemental composition and (2) the structure (or shape) of the molecule
    • shape - the shape of a polymer can aid (speed up) chemical reactions that would otherwise occur slowly
    • these aids are called catalysts
    • in life processes, catalysts are called enzymes
    • life shows a high degree of selectivity in the compounds it uses and in the shape of those compounds (Figure 7.2)
    • example - only 20 amino acids are commonly used out of nearly countless numbers (Figure 7.7 and Table 7.2)
      • amino acids are the monomers used to construct polymers called proteins
    Reproduction at the molecular level
    • reproduction relies upon DNA and RNA polymers
      • DNA = deoxyribonucleic acid
      • RNA = ribonucleic acid
      • Note - RNA is not directly involved in the reproductive process, it acts as an intermediary
    • DNA (1) stores genetic information and (2) oversees the construction of proteins
    • genetic information tells the next generation how to grow, reproduce and carry on with life activities
    • DNA is a polymer
    • it is made up of monomers called nucleotides (Figure 7.4)
    • a nucleotide is a molecule containing:
      • sugar + phosphate (PO4) + base
      • "base" as opposed to an "acid"
    • there are four bases:
      • adenine (A)
      • guanine (G)
      • cytosine (C)
      • thymine (T)
    • there is a fifth base called uracil (U) that is not used by DNA
    • DNA is in the shape of a twisted ladder, called a double helix (Figure 7.5)
    • the rungs of the latter are made of two bases, called a base pair
    • the base pairs cannot link randomly, rather, only A-T and G-C pairs are possible
    Manufacture of proteins
    • DNA is also responsible for manufacturing proteins
      • Note - these three statements, which were in the original document, can be deleted. It is important to know that the base-triplets are used to determine which amino acid is placed in a protein.
      • the two strands of DNA can split (Figure 7.6)
      • each strand can capture free-floating amino acids which, when complete, break away from the strand to become a free-floating protein
      • each amino acid bonds to the DNA molecule using 3 adjacent bases (three of ACGT, e.g., "AAC")
    • the allowance is for 4x4x4 = 64 distinct amino acids
    • life uses only 20 amino acids
    • the remaining (extra) base-triplets are used for redundancy and for a "stop" command
    • DNA manufactures proteins that use between 100-500 triplets of bases
    • sequences that are significant to the organism are called genes (Table 7.3)
    • by splitting down the middle, DNA replicates itself "exactly" due to the unique pairing ability of the nucleotide bases, A-T and G-C
    • DNA does not perform the actual synthesis of proteins
    • rather, DNA serves as the blueprint
    • DNA forms RNA, which is a "working copy" of the gene or protein it wishes to produce
    • the RNA does the actual manufacture of proteins by capturing free amino acids
      • Note - this statement is not quite correct. The RNA is recognized by a ribosome, which translates the RNA message into a protein using the base triplets. My dictionay (online Webster's) defines "ribosome" as "any of the RNA-rich cytoplasmic granules that are sites of protein synthesis".
    • RNA replaces thymine (T) with uracil (U) in its structure
    RNA World Theory
    • DNA uses RNA to manufacture proteins
    • RNA resembles a single strand of DNA, i.e., a "half ladder" (DNA split down the middle)
    • RNA can catalyze itself, or act as its own enzyme in reproduction
    • researchers think that RNA came first in our evolutionary sequence, the RNA world theory (pg 199)
    • current research tries to explore the formation of RNA
    • sometimes there is a change in the sequence of nucleotide bases, a mutation
    • causes -
      • high energy photons (gamma rays)
      • high energy particles (cosmic ray particles)
      • chemical agents (mutagens)
      • error in the DNA copying mechanism - somewhat rare
    • the error causes an incorrect amino acid to be entered into a protein
      • Note - there are other possible effects, however, only the one we are interested in is described here
      • Note - the physical cause of the mutation is that an entire base pair can be knocked out of the molecule, while allowing the molecule itself to remain intact.
    • many mutations are neutral, but some will harm or help the organism
    • "help" means "more successful in reproduction"
    • over time, favourable mutations will dominate the genetic material of a species, called natural selection
    Carbon versus silicon
    • the need for complex molecules is best met by molecules that can bond the most number of times - four bonds - includes carbon, silicon, germanium, titanium and others
    • carbon and silicon are the most abundant
    • silicon forms weaker bonds: Si-Si-Si is unstable and will tend to break apart
    • stable forms of silicon do not participate easily in chemical reactions
    • silicon reacts with oxygen readily to form silicon dioxide (SiO2), which is stable (too much so) and unreactive
      • it is a solid that is not soluble in water, hence it is difficult to cycle silicon through the environment
    • the Si equivalent of methane (CH4) is silane (SiH4) which spontaneously bursts into fire when exposed to oxygen
    • hence, silicon is inferior to carbon since it does not form complex molecules, but rather gets locked up in small, stable molecules that are unreactive
    • despite these properties, silicon-based life is popular with science fiction authors
    • other elements that can form four bonds have very low abundances, which is unfavourable for life
    Miller-Urey experiments
    • these experiments, named after the original researchers who performed them, try to recreate the conditions of Earth's very early history
    • they take an enclosed mixture of methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water gases and provide it with a source of energy, like heat or electrical discharges
    • the gases are cycled through liquid water
    • after a short time, there is the production of many organic molecules including amino acids
    • more carefully controlled conditions show the production of sugars
    • there has been no production of DNA or RNA (yet?)
    • the production of long polymers may depend upon the specific environment
    • for example, clays might be important since they are composed of fine grains with large surface areas
    • organic molecules readily stick to these grain surfaces
    • the grain surface might be stable enough to help potential monomers to come together to form long chains
    • the monomers are free-floating initially, probably in water
    • in fact, shallow, warm and still water might be the best environment
    • this type of environment is provided by tide pools
    • so we have come full-circle, both starting and finishing with some mention of the significance of water

  • Damn,
    Mr. Fribble you are right on. Reading the obcious troll and enjoying the humor, I run across your post which outlines the story and detail better than the original.

    Thank you.

  • I am no expert, but everything absorbs radiation in some wavelengths or may emit energy at certain wavelengths (Ever put various chemicals in flame in chem class?) By examining the wavelengths absorbed or emited by a cloud of gas or what have you one can determine what it is. The rules of physics are the same everywhere, if the absorbtion or emmision wavelengths seen in the radio telescope are the same as they are here on earth its a safe bet that its the same chemical.

    To answer the first question, it is a massive cloud of the same molecules, not just one.

  • So essentially it works like this:

    Really bright light source with a know chemical composition(stars being mostly hydrogen and helium count) emit light and energy.

    A sugar is composed of bonds between carbons, oxygens, hydrogens, etc.

    The bond between two atoms is a like a spring; it can store energy, or it can release energy. In a laser, you structure it to release energy of certain wavelengths. In this case, the bond will absorb these certain wavelengths out of the light put out by the star.

    So if 15 different wavelengths are subtracted out from the spectra at certain intensities, we can create an image from this light.

    If we take a light source of the same composition(in the lab or something) and place, say, a sugar laden gas in front of it, and get *the same* spectra, we can conclude with *some* certainty that sugar exists in the first case too. Sorta vague only because you are identifying by shadows... but it is an accepted method of identifying chemical composition

  • Sugars and protiens, AFAIK, have a lot in common. It seems to me that these sugars could suggest a carbon-based-life-friendly environment, but do not necessarily prove that there is life

    Sorry to say, but sugars and proteins don't really have much in common at all. Proteins are large molecular chains of many, many amino acids strung together. Sugars are on approximately the same scale of complexity as amino acids themselves; generally sugars are short, fully saturated carbon chains (5-6C is very common) with hydroxyl (-OH) groups bound to them. Also, a double-bonded oxygen is present, making the sugar either an aldehyde (the sugar is on C1) or a ketone (the sugar is not at the end). This can reversibly condense with the alcohol at the far end of the molecule, forming stable 5 or 6 membered rings. Of course these can then be polymerized to make longer carbohydrates such as cellulose, starch etc.
    The glycoaldehyde in the article is a *very* simple sugar molecule, even when compared to ones we deal with every day such as glucose. Having only two carbon atoms, it's far too small to even form a simple ring structure. The chances of this type of molecule forming through "normal" chemical processes in nebulae are about the same (if not better) than those of other organic molecules known to be present there.
  • "My God! It's full of nougat!"

    Sorry. I'm very very sorry. Must be the beer.
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @05:31PM (#987657) Homepage Journal

    One, what are the "agreed upon" values for each variable in Drake's Equation?

    Two, since our "communicative" span may be about 100 years from first radio transmissions to adoption of less leaky cable/internet/laser stuff, how low is the fb (fraction of time the society is using broadcasting technologies)?

    Three, if we DO hear something, do we assume that we'll hear someone out there, during their 100 year burst of transmissions, and then be able to visit them, given that time/space curvature puts their race far ahead of ours?

  • by Bill Currie ( 487 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @03:52PM (#987659) Homepage
    leads to space rock candy :)

    It's interesting to note that the scientists were talking about the building blocks of life seem to be being formed before the planets that host that life. Kind of makes you wonder if there are some interesting life forms living in the gas cloud independent of any one planet or star.

  • this doesn't surprise me at all. it's a wee bit off topic, but i expect that we'll be finding more and more things like this as time progresses. there's a good book by isaac asimov called "extraterrestrial civilzations" i believe and in it he speculates on the existance of other intelligent life in the universe. it seems ridiculous to assume that we're alone, so i guess things like these don't surprise me. anyway, i'd be interested in where this discovery leads and what we can make of it.
    DeCSS source code! []
    you must amputate to email me.
  • by colinm1981 ( 185957 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @03:53PM (#987662)
    I'm convinced now it won't be long before scientists find full-fledged "space twinkies"... mmmmm.....

  • by bconway ( 63464 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @03:56PM (#987666) Homepage
    the Milky Way (hardy har har). Seriously, think of how much you could get for that stuff. Most expensive cookies I ever saw, man.
  • SWEET!

    (What's the I hear? That groaning sound...)


  • > Although a recent book, Rare Earth has called into question how probable civilizations are.

    This month's Scientific American has a couple of short articles about the progress of SETI, and the growing concern among astronomers about the "Where the heck are they???" question.

    They do raise some troubling questions. Although things like cosmic sugar and detectable planets would seem to increase the odds calculated by the Drake, SETI has now scanned a substantial portion of the galaxy at the "obvious" frequency without finding anything, and there is a growing feeling that we should have found something by now.

    My growing suspicion is that the races stupid enough to broadcast their existence don't last very long.

  • by orpheus ( 14534 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @05:38PM (#987681)
    Forgive me Lubeck Streyer (aka 'lubie-babie', when I was in molecular bio) and St. Lehninger, for the sins I am about to commit...

    I really feel I ought to explain what they are calling 'sugars' here -- it's a biochemical term that (very crudely) boils down to 'a chain of carbons with water attached' -- only the 'water' has broken into two parts ( HOH => H + OH ) and these two parts connect to the carbon, instead of each other. you can think of a 'sugar' as a chain of carbon groups that look like HO-C-H and are connected to each other at by the carbons like this:
    ......._____. .......H............
    ....../.....| ....HO-C-H..___. .....__.......
    ...HO-C-H...| ........\../...| ... /..\......
    ...HO-C-H...| ......HO-C.....| ....\__/\.....
    ...HO-C-H...| ......HO-C-H...| .........\__..
    ...HO-C-H...| ......HO-C-H...| ........./..\.
    ...HO-C-H...| ......HO-C-H...| .........\__/.
    ....H-C-OH..| .......H-C-OH..| ..............
    ......\_____| ..........\____| ...Table Sugar

    The big loop just indicates that the carbons are generally in a ring. The second figure indicates that not all of the carbons are always in the ring. The last HO-C-H group is backwards to indicate that major difference between many sugars of the same size is simply whether each -OH group points up or down when we lay the ring flat. "up-up-down-up-up-up" is one sugar, but "up-up-up-down-up-up" is different sugar (they may seem like reflections, but trust me, in a 3-D ring, they aren't)

    The 'well-known sugars' (most of which you've never heard of) have carbon chain lengths from 3 carbons (e.g. triose) up to seven carbons (e.g. sedheptulose). However, the 'familiar sugars' are usually based on a six carbon (glucose, fructose, etc.) or five-carbon (ribose) ring. Table sugar (sucrose) consists of *two* six carbon sugars connected together. Chains of sugars longer than two can be very 'un-sugar-like' -- cellulose (wood fiber) is nothing but long linked chains of glucose (blood sugar) while glycogen (a stored fuel in your liver) is also just branched chains of glucose, but is very different physically.

    Glucose (blood sugar) or fructose (fruit sugar) are C6-H12-O6. Table sugar (sucrose) is C12-H22-O12. In space conditions, it might be useful to think of carbon chain lengths as being like stacked blocks -- the kind children play with. Generally stacking two blocks is easy, but six is more than three times as hard (it tends to fall apart easily)

    The so-called "sugar" they found in space is two carbons long (glycoaldehyde C2-H4-O2) and is very unlike the six-carbon (okay, 5-7) sugars we usually think of. In biochemistry, it isn't generally called a sugar at all. Three carbons was a sort of bottom limit to be sugar like, because the 'ends' often have an extra hydrogen, and a two carbon 'sugar' would be nothing but 'end' and can't form a ring. It's not very 'sugar-like'. It is an extremely simple molecule, that would be easy to make ("stack") by random, and it looks like this (where the = means a double bond)

    ......H.H.... -- glycoaldehyde,
    ...HO-C-C=O.. -- the so-called
    ......H.H.... -- "space sugar"

    You can find more info at these pages:

    The structure and function of macromolecules [] (an outline)
    Some sketches of various sugars [] (let the pictures load before scrolling, or you'll lose your place)
  • Remember that Drake just calculates the expected number of independent civilizations arising. The authors of one of the SA articles seem to think that at least some of these civilizations would colonize the galaxy recursively. I.e., send ships to two nearby stars, spending several decades at maybe 10% of the speed of light, spend a few hundred or thousand years bringing the foundations up to space capabilities, and then have each of them launch two child civilizations. This gives exponential growth; plausible parameters indicate that such a civilization would gobble up the whole galaxy in "only" a few million years. So why hasn't it happened?

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @05:42PM (#987683) Journal

    ...Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope discoverd intergalactic coffee. There is now speculation that the Big Bang was a result of the early universe being excessively "wired". Starbucks executives declined to comment.

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 )
    Oh, great.. it was bad enough when they wanted to put a huge coca-cola sign in space which would be several thousand meters long and glow at night.. now what - are we going to put a billboard up in space that says "ATTENTION: We know you're out there. Come on over for the best chocolate in the solar system!" ??
  • Some hungry lab flunky left his half eaten Kit Kat on the radio telescope.
  • Let's not jump the gun.

    We're talking about a few sugar molecules. And their existance hasn't even been confirmed. A mere radiation resinance doesn't prove there is sugar in the gas clouds. We have no idea what is inside one of those things.

    Besides finding sugar is a long way from finding life.


  • It's not leftover from the Big Bang []; it's a sugar buzz!
  • As far as I know, this doesn't seem particularly ground-breaking. While it's great to find it since it's really just another step in the right direction of trying to deduce that there is life out there, it's not a particularly massive breakthrough... Scientists have known the existance of amino-acids in inter-stellar objects for quite sometime now and they actually are quite common even. I have NFI about Chemistry but as far as i know glucose is just a string of amino acids strung together. As amino acids were so common, it wasd really just a matter of time before we found sth

  • "This gives exponential growth; plausible parameters indicate that such a civilization would gobble up the whole galaxy in "only" a few million years. So why hasn't it happened? "

    You missed a vitally important point....

    Their growth would still be limited by the speed of light. Instead of Exponential growth, they would at best have cubic growth limited by some fraction of the speed of light.

    This leads to dramaticly different numbers.

    Does that answer your question?

  • The way I figure it, people infected with Christianity just have a weak mental immune system. They can't fight off bad memes.

    Trying to convert someone to your religion is like coughing on your friends when you have a cold.

  • Look, this is all pointless. It's not worth fighting over.

    Some people are infected with the Christianity meme, and some people have a memetic defense against that sort of nonsense.

    These two groups of people can do little more that argue with one another. It's not worth the time for either of them.

    Let it go already. Move on.

  • by Penrif ( 33473 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2000 @04:02PM (#987709) Homepage
    By spectral analysis, that's how. In this case, the analysis was on radio waves. In essence, they didn't "see" the molecules, they detected them. While the results may not be accurate, I wouldn't call them a hoax.

    And yes, I know you're not the real timothy. All you have to do is look at the source of a page you've posted on and you'll see the special character after the 'i'.
  • "Mission to Mars" already predicted this, showing us that Dr. Pepper and M&M's exist in high quantity in space.

"Live or die, I'll make a million." -- Reebus Kneebus, before his jump to the center of the earth, Firesign Theater