Monday, 27 September 2004

Sugary Centre in Milky Way(s)

Galactic Core?From The Scotsman comes news that may be a surprise to Space Mavens, interested in life on Mars. Still, it's something that the connoiseurs of down-market (but high quality) chocolate bars have known for some time.:
Astronomers have found a cloud of frozen sugar near the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, it was revealed today.
Frozen Milky ways are OK, but Frozen Mars Bars (especially the ones with hazelnuts in...) are far better in my opinion. Thinly sliced, as was done in the UK during WW2, when a single Mars bar would be a your entire sugar ration for a week.

I'd better clarify, since I have international readers.
A (US) Mars Bar is known in Australia and the UK as an Almond Mars Bar.
A (UK) Mars Bar is known in the USA as a Milky Way.
A (US) Three Musketeers Bar is known in Australia and the UK as a Milky Way.
(see article in World History)

But getting back to the HWH (That's Hoyle-Wickramasinghe Hypothesis)... or rather, the Scotsman article :
The discovery heightens the possibility of early building blocks of life originating in interstellar space.

Molecules of a simple sugar, glycolaldehyde, were detected in a cloud of gas and dust called Sagittarius B2 about 26,000 light years away.
Glycoaldehyde consists of two carbon atoms, two oxygen atoms and four hydrogen atoms.

This type of molecule is known as a 2-carbon sugar. Significantly, it can react with a 3-carbon sugar to produce the 5-carbon sugar ribose :- the molecule which forms the backbone of DNA.
The discovery adds to the growing evidence that the foundations of life can be traced to chemical reactions within interstellar clouds.

The clouds, often many light years across, provide the raw material from which new stars and planets are formed.

Radio astronomer Dr Jan Hollis, from the American space agency Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: 'Many of the interstellar molecules discovered to date are the same kinds detected in laboratory experiments specifically designed to synthesise prebiotic molecules.

This fact suggests a universal prebiotic chemistry.'

Gravitational attraction causes lumps to form in interstellar clouds which eventually condense into stars and planets.

The process generates so much heat that any prebiotic molecules within the planetary lumps would probably be destroyed.

But the new findings show that life's building blocks could exist in the frozen wastes beyond the planet-building zone of an embryonic solar system, where comets form.

A collision with a comet or a brush with a comet's tail could then 'seed' a young planet with the material needed to kick-start life.

And finally, another word on Mars. While researching this article, I found the Visible Mars Project from The Temple ov The Lemur. Both sites worth a return visit.

Interestingly, while growing up in the UK in the 60's, I distinctly remember Mars bars of the American pattern rather than the current UK one. Those were the days when a Milky Way cost 3d - and a truly huge Mars bar with almonds in cost 7d (not 6d - I remember that oddity). But maybe it's not the bar that was huge, but that I was a little smaller than I am today, I would have been 7 at the time.

There is an excellent article on the use of Mars Bars as a stable currency in the Financial Times, and referenced in the UK Parliament along with the rallying cry, "hands off the Mars Bar".

The current Australian ones follows the UK pattern, but there are variants with Almonds and Hazelnuts in too - the latter being my favourite.

And it's looking more probable that the various plants, the sugar cane, the cocoa beans, and the animals that produced the milk in a Mars bar are all descended from life that got kick-started by the Sweet Centre at the Milky Way.

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