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Compressed ‘bits’ store tons of quantum data

Scientists recently demonstrated that it’s possible to compress quantum bits, or qubits, without losing information. The ability to compress quantum information—just as we do with digital data—could open up huge potential for more powerful computing.
They also showed that the compression would scale exponentially. So it would require only 10 qubits to store all of the information about 1,000 qubits, and only 20 qubits to store all of the information about a million.
Digital compression in the world of classical information theory is fairly straightforward. As a simple example, if you have a string of 1,000 zeros and ones and are only interested in how many zeros there are, you can simply count them and then write down the number.
In the quantum world it’s more complicated. A qubit can be in a “superposition” between both zero and one until you measure it, at which point it collapses to either a zero or a one.
Why it’s complicated
Not only that, but you can extract different values depending on how you make the measurement. Measured one way, a qubit might reveal a value of either zero or one. Measured another way it might show a value of either plus or minus.

 

So, you don’t want to collapse the quantum state of the qubit until you’re ready to. Once you’ve made a single measurement, any other information you might have wanted to extract from the qubit disappears.
You could just store the qubit until you know you’re ready to measure its value. But you might be dealing with thousands or millions of qubits.
“Our proposal gives you a way to hold onto a smaller quantum memory but still have the possibility of extracting as much information at a later date as if you’d held onto them all in the first place,” says Aephraim M. Steinberg of the University of Toronto and a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).
In the experiment, Lee Rozema, a researcher in Steinberg’s lab and lead author on the paper, prepared qubits in the form of photons, which carried information in the form of their spin and in their path.
The experiment showed that the information contained in three qubits could be compressed into only two qubits—and that it can be compressed exponentially.
One caveat is that the information has to be contained in qubits that have been prepared by an identical process. However, many experiments in quantum information make use of just such identically prepared qubits, making the technique potentially very useful.
“This work sheds light on some of the striking differences between information in the classical and quantum worlds. It also promises to provide an exponential reduction in the amount of quantum memory needed for certain tasks,” Steinberg says.
The paper will appear in an upcoming issue of Physical Review Letters.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported the project.
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Compressed ‘bits’ store tons of quantum data

Scientists recently demonstrated that it’s possible to compress quantum bits, or qubits, without losing information. The ability to compress quantum information—just as we do with digital data—could open up huge potential for more powerful computing.

They also showed that the compression would scale exponentially. So it would require only 10 qubits to store all of the information about 1,000 qubits, and only 20 qubits to store all of the information about a million.

Digital compression in the world of classical information theory is fairly straightforward. As a simple example, if you have a string of 1,000 zeros and ones and are only interested in how many zeros there are, you can simply count them and then write down the number.

In the quantum world it’s more complicated. A qubit can be in a “superposition” between both zero and one until you measure it, at which point it collapses to either a zero or a one.

Why it’s complicated

Not only that, but you can extract different values depending on how you make the measurement. Measured one way, a qubit might reveal a value of either zero or one. Measured another way it might show a value of either plus or minus.

So, you don’t want to collapse the quantum state of the qubit until you’re ready to. Once you’ve made a single measurement, any other information you might have wanted to extract from the qubit disappears.

You could just store the qubit until you know you’re ready to measure its value. But you might be dealing with thousands or millions of qubits.

“Our proposal gives you a way to hold onto a smaller quantum memory but still have the possibility of extracting as much information at a later date as if you’d held onto them all in the first place,” says Aephraim M. Steinberg of the University of Toronto and a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

In the experiment, Lee Rozema, a researcher in Steinberg’s lab and lead author on the paper, prepared qubits in the form of photons, which carried information in the form of their spin and in their path.

The experiment showed that the information contained in three qubits could be compressed into only two qubits—and that it can be compressed exponentially.

One caveat is that the information has to be contained in qubits that have been prepared by an identical process. However, many experiments in quantum information make use of just such identically prepared qubits, making the technique potentially very useful.

“This work sheds light on some of the striking differences between information in the classical and quantum worlds. It also promises to provide an exponential reduction in the amount of quantum memory needed for certain tasks,” Steinberg says.

The paper will appear in an upcoming issue of Physical Review Letters.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported the project.

(Source: futurity.org)

Awesome View Of The Small Magellanic Cloud

The tip of the “wing” of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is dazzling in this view from NASA’s Great Observatories. The Small Magellanic Cloud, or SMC, is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years way that orbits our own Milky Way spiral galaxy.

 The colors represent wavelengths of light across a broad spectrum. X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are shown in purple; visible-light from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is colored red, green and blue; and infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope are also represented in red.

 The spiral galaxy seen in the lower corner is actually behind this nebula. Other distant galaxies located hundreds of millions of light-years or more away can be seen sprinkled around the edge of the image.

 The SMC is one of the Milky Way’s closest galactic neighbors. Even though it is a small, or so-called dwarf galaxy, the SMC is so bright that it is visible to the unaided eye from the Southern Hemisphere and near the equator. Many navigators, including Ferdinand Magellan who lends his name to the SMC, used it to help find their way across the oceans.

 Modern astronomers are also interested in studying the SMC (and its cousin, the Large Magellanic Cloud), but for very different reasons. Because the SMC is so close and bright, it offers an opportunity to study phenomena that are difficult to examine in more distant galaxies. New Chandra data of the SMC have provided one such discovery: the first detection of X-ray emission from young stars, with masses similar to our sun, outside our Milky Way galaxy.

 Caption: NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/STScI
  NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/STScI 

Dengue Virus Pumps Out RNA To Evade Attack:

A newly discovered pathway lets the dengue virus avoid being destroyed by the body’s antiviral response.

The findings, which appear in PLOS Pathogens, provide knowledge that could help researchers treat the disease more effectively.

For years, the conventional approach to target the dengue virus was through control of the vector—the mosquito that carries the disease from one host to another. The elusive mechanics of the virus have hampered the development of effective treatments and vaccines.

Typically, when a virus enters the body and infects cells, it induces the production and release of interferons—proteins that raise the body’s antiviral defense mechanisms.

In examining the dengue virus-2 strain, a team at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore observed that when the dengue virus enters the cell, it produces large quantities of a non-coding, highly structured viral ribonucleic acid (RNA).

This attaches to proteins in the cell that help in the production of antiviral proteins in response to interferons. The interaction renders the cell unable to launch its defenses to protect against virus replication.

In 30 years of dengue-related research, this new mechanism was never discovered, according to senior author Professor Mariano Garcia-Blanco of the Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“We not only found a new way in which the pathogen (dengue virus) interferes with the host response (human immune system), we also uncovered the first mechanistic insight into how this non-coding RNA works,” says Garcia-Blanco.

He believes that the latest discovery opens the door to exploring therapeutics through this channel.

These findings shed greater light on how the human immune response is regulated, and for dengue, how the virus has managed to evade these defenses.

The work also highlights the differences between the four dengue strains and how more research is necessary to understand this highly complex virus.

(Source: futurity.org)

With NASA Probes Arrival, International Mars Invasion Gets Under Way:

Mars is getting crowded. A new NASA orbiter slips into Mars orbit on Sunday, followed closely by India’s first interplanetary probe, a comet, and then a rush of countries proposing their own entries to the new space race to Mars.

 

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission (MAVEN) is scheduled to enter Mars orbit Sunday night after a ten-month journey. The $671 million mission joins NASA’s two robotic rovers on the surface and two orbiters circling Mars, plus the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. (Read "Visions of Mars" in National Geographic magazine.)

That’s if nothing goes wrong, of course—the red planet also holds the wreckage of NASA’s Mars Polar Lander and Europe’s Beagle 2, reminders of the history of Mars mission mishaps: Roughly half of all spacecraft sent to the planet have crashed or gone off course.

Undeterred, a host of nations are planning or contemplating more trips to Mars. And then there’s space entrepreneur Elon Musk of SpaceX, who dreams of putting human colonists on the planet.

Mars, say space policy experts, looks like the planetary destination of choice for the rest of the decade. (Related: "Top 5 Challenges in Store for Mars MAVEN Mission.")

"Bottom line—all the major spacefaring countries have had, will have, or hope to have robotic Mars probes," says space policy analyst Marcia Smith of SpacePolicyOnline.

Why Mars? “Fundamentally, all the investigations seem to revolve around the question of life on Mars,” says space historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Though the search has shifted over the decades from finding Martians to simply looking for evidence the planet was habitable in the distant past, “we have not completely abandoned those beliefs” in Mars as an abode of life, he says. (Related: "Making Mars the New Earth.")

And MAVEN is “our next big step on our journey to Mars,” says NASA’s Lisa May, speaking at a Wednesday briefing on the mission. MAVEN is “on schedule and ready to go,” she added, with a rocket burn set to nudge the spacecraft into orbit around Mars.

Martian Invasion

MAVEN aims to tell the story of how Mars went from a warm and wet planet more than four billion years ago to the cold, dry desert of today. These days Mars has a tenuous atmosphere, only 0.6 percent as thick as Earth’s. By measuring the rate at which light gases such as hydrogen escape into space, MAVEN will let scientists backtrack the history of the planet’s atmosphere.

Next, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft arrives on September 24. The Indian Space Research Organisation pronounced the $73 million spacecraft in the "pink of health" on Twitter last week, ready for a steering rocket firing that will place the mission on track to arrive at Mars.

Only U.S., European, and Russian space agencies have sent an orbiter to Mars until now. That means India would join an exclusive club.

MOM is explicitly aimed at developing India’s space capabilities, with all of its instruments built in India. The spacecraft is equipped with cameras, atmospheric gas sensors, and surface chemistry spectrometers, all providing India its own eyes on Mars.

Just as the two new spacecraft settle into operation, the comet Siding Spring will swing close by Mars on October 19. The comet will pass within roughly 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers) of the red planet, about a third of the distance between Earth and the moon.

Dust trailing from the comet, traveling at 125,000 miles per hour (about 200,000 kilometers per hour), might pose a threat to spacecraft, so NASA has announced plans to park its Mars satellites on the far side of the planet during the passage. Afterward, the orbiters should enjoy a ringside seat to observe the comet’s effects on the Martian atmosphere.

"The risk is really minimal," says MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado in Boulder. “We should learn a lot about the atmosphere from this natural experiment,” he adds.

Photo of India's Mars bound rocket.
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, shown here, is now only days away from Mars.
Photograph by Pallava Bagla, Corbis

Martian Chronicles

Mars has a lot more in store for explorers. On the planet’s surface, NASA’s Curiosity rover has finally reached the foothills of Aeolis Mons, or Mount Sharp, after a two-year journey to the place that was the true target of the mission.

Curiosity’s analyses there are seen as the best chance yet for determining whether Mars ever possessed a habitable environment. A NASA Planetary Review Board panel over the summer criticized the Curiosity team for planning too few surface measurements of the foothills, with only eight scheduled on its currently approved extended mission.

Defending the mission plans, Curiosity mission science chief John Grotzinger of Caltech said at a congressional panel on September 3 that every analysis carries a risk of breaking the rover’s drill, so taking fewer, better samples from a wide diversity of outcrops on Mount Sharp was a safer way to explore.

While Curiosity traverses some 5 miles (8 kilometers) of Martian mountain, NASA’s Insight lander and Europe’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission, conducted with help from Russia, will reach the red planet in 2016. Insight will bore into Mars, looking for signs of seismic activity and subsurface heat.

More rovers will land on Mars starting in 2018, when Europe’s ExoMars rover arrives, again with Russian help. The ExoMars will join the Curiosity rover in the search for signs of organic chemistry in the Martian past.

Finally, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will arrive in that year, equipped with new instruments atop a chassis copied from the Curiosity rover. The rover will also have tougher wheels—pointy rocks on Mars have chewed up the ones on Curiosity unexpectedly soon. The new rover will pick up the search for past habitable conditions on Mars at a new site, with sampling technology refined by Curiosity’s discoveries.

"The orbital dynamics do put a damper on things for a few years," SpacePolicyOnline’s Smith says, as Mars moves out of the optimum orbital sync with Earth after 2020. Mars orbits the sun once every 687 days, nearly twice as long as an Earth year. As a result, the planets are regularly out of perfect orbital alignment, and only every 26 months or so do month-long “windows” open for fuel-efficient paths for spacecraft to travel there from Earth.

But more muscular rockets, such as a heavy one now under development by NASA, might help make up for the difference, she adds, before and after the planets once more align.

Extraterrestrial Globalization

Just as the Cold War saw a “moon race” ensue between U.S. and Soviet rocketeers, “a number of simultaneous Asian space races currently exist,” writes Jeff Kingwell of Geoscience Australia’s National Earth and Marine Observations Group, in Symonston, in the June Space Policy journal.

Tensions between China and Japan, for example, or between Asia’s growing economies and older spacefaring ones, might drive future space endeavors in the same way as the race with the Soviets to the moon, Kingwell suggests.

Along those lines, a number of nations are talking about joining India in the Martian club. Both Russia and China, for starters, have announced plans for the kind of heavy-lift rocket under development by NASA, the kind needed to carry new nations to Mars:

China—In June, Ouyang Ziyun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said his nation will land a rover on Mars by 2020. China put a rover on the moon last year called the Jade Rabbit, which is still in radio contact but otherwise moribund after its robotics failed.

Japan—Also in June, Japan added Mars exploration to its long-term space plans after 2030. Some Japanese space agency documents referred to it as “Planet X” in proposals.

Russia—Earlier this year, Victor Khartov of Russia’s Lavochkin aerospace firm announced a plan to send a first probe to a Martian moon, Phobos, with the Boomerang mission for 2020. An earlier attempt, the Phobos-Grunt mission, failed after a launch mishap in 2012.

"What’s happening is that a number of countries have gotten the technology to send probes to Mars—we have reached a point of international technological maturity," says Syracuse University’s W. Henry Lambright, author of Why Mars: NASA and the Politics of Space Exploration. “Mars is a natural attractor for nations, as part of this bigger trend we call globalization.”

Photo of Mars Yard.
Europe’s ExoMars rover practices rolling on Mars in a testing yard.
Photograph by Max Alexander, UK Space Agency/ESA

Planetary Politics

"Mars is the ‘big enchilada’ for manned space [exploration], the natural target for people moving off the planet," says Smithsonian’s space historian Launius. "That will always drive a lot of interest."

Right now, the U.S. has the most solid plans among space nations for sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, depending on funding, partners, and rockets. Elon Musk of SpaceX has also discussed sending colonists to Mars on a heavy version of his Falcon 9 rocket, famously saying, "I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact," in a speech last year.

Ironically, Launius notes that Mars was a bit of a backwater in space exploration for a few decades, after the Viking missions of the 1970s found no signs of life there. NASA’s 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission revived interest in the red planet and in the space agency’s Mars program. A series of orbiters and rovers, notably Spirit and Opportunity, received tremendous public interest and revived NASA’s prestige.

We may be coasting on that success, Lambright notes, pointing to recent budget cuts made to NASA’s planetary science program, a $1.28 billion part of the $17.6 billion agency, have hit Mars exploration efforts.

Both houses of Congress this year requested more money for planetary science in NASA’s budget than the Obama administration asked for, but that budget still awaits a vote. Within a long-term decline in NASA’s share of government spending, now down to about 0.6 percent of the federal budget, the agency has dialed back its Mars plans.

On hold is the big-ticket item desired by both the space agency and planetary scientists, a Mars “sample return” mission. It would rocket back to Earth samples of Mars rocks, perhaps one scooped up by the Mars 2020 rover.

NASA chief Charles Bolden and others have suggested that manned Mars exploration will be too arduous for any one nation to undertake, requiring international cooperation. Some cost estimates for sending astronauts to Mars have ranged around $300 billion over 40 years.

As for the cornucopia of Mars missions, Lambright says the real question is whether they will lead to cooperation among spacefaring nations. NASA canceling participation in Europe’s ExoMars missions over the past three years, citing costs, was a step in the wrong direction, he says.

"What we need to see is a point in time where national endeavors give way to more sustained international ones," he says. "We’re not there yet, but maybe we will be sometime in the future."

WHO | Ebola virus disease

This is a Public Service Announcement:

1st. Yes the first case of Ebola in the US was announced in Texas. It was discovered in a Liberian man who had no symptoms during his flight but went to the hospital shortly afterwards. The CDC already as a team on the way to assist with tracking down anyone he may have come in contact with and with containment.

2nd. No you will not catch Ebola. It is a disease with high severity but is difficult to catch due to the fact that it is spread through contact with bodily fluids. This means you would have to come in contact with the blood of someone with Ebola to have a chance to catch it yourself.

3rd. Also, there are lots of cultural reasons there is an outbreak in Africa at the moment, but most of it has to do with an incredibly weak health care system which makes proper burial of the dead and quick treatment of those infected very difficult and helps in the spread of the disease.

4th. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/

Educate yourself, and DONT PANIC

Simulations Reveal An Unusual Death For Ancient Stars:

Certain primordial stars—those 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our Sun, or solar masses—may have died unusually. In death, these objects—among the Universe’s first-generation of stars—would have exploded as supernovae and burned completely, leaving no remnant black hole behind. 

Astrophysicists at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the University of Minnesota came to this conclusion after running a number of supercomputer simulations at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota. They relied extensively on CASTRO, a compressible astrophysics code developed at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab’s) Computational Research Division (CRD). Their findings were recently published in Astrophysical Journal (ApJ).

First-generation stars are especially interesting because they produced the first heavy elements, or chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium. In death, they sent their chemical creations into outer space, paving the way for subsequent generations of stars, solar systems and galaxies. With a greater understanding of how these first stars died, scientists hope to glean some insights about how the Universe, as we know it today, came to be.

"We found that there is a narrow window where supermassive stars could explode completely instead of becoming a supermassive black hole—no one has ever found this mechanism before," says Ke-Jung Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC and lead author of the ApJ paper. "Without NERSC resources, it would have taken us a lot longer to reach this result. From a user perspective, the facility is run very efficiently and it is an extremely convenient place to do science."

 

The Simulations: What’s Going On?

To model the life of a primordial supermassive star, Chen and his colleagues used a one-dimensional stellar evolution code called KEPLER. This code takes into account key processes like nuclear burning and stellar convection. And relevant for massive stars, photo-disintegration of elements, electron-positron pair production and special . The team also included general relativistic effects, which are important for stars above 1,000 solar masses.

They found that primordial stars between 55,000 to 56,000 solar masses live about 1.69 million years before becoming unstable due to general relativistic effects and then start to collapse. As the star collapses, it begins to rapidly synthesize heavy elements like oxygen, neon, magnesium and silicon starting with helium in its core. This process releases more energy than the binding energy of the star, halting the collapse and causing a massive explosion: a supernova.

To model the death mechanisms of these stars, Chen and his colleagues used CASTRO—a multidimensional compressible astrophysics code developed at Berkeley Lab by scientists Ann Almgren and John Bell. These simulations show that once collapse is reversed, Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities mix produced in the star’s final moments throughout the star itself. The researchers say that this mixing should create a distinct observational signature that could be detected by upcoming near-infrared experiments such as the European Space Agency’s Euclid and NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

Depending on the intensity of the supernovae, some supermassive could, when they explode, enrich their entire host galaxy and even some nearby galaxies with elements ranging from carbon to silicon. In some cases, supernova may even trigger a burst of star formation in its host galaxy, which would make it visually distinct from other young galaxies.

"My work involves studying the supernovae of very with new physical processes beyond hydrodynamics, so I’ve collaborated with Ann Almgren to adapt CASTRO for many different projects over the years,” says Chen. “Before I run my simulations, I typically think about the physics I need to solve a particular problem. I then work with Ann to develop some code and incorporate it into CASTRO. It is a very efficient system.”

To visualize his data, Chen used an open source tool called VisIt, which was architected by Hank Childs, formerly a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab. “Most of the time I did my own visualizations, but when there were things that I needed to modify or customize I would shoot Hank an email and that was very helpful.”

Chen completed much of this work while he was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. He completed his Ph.D. in physics in 2013.



 

'Venus Zone' Could Aid Search For Earth-Like Alien Worlds:

A team of researchers has delineated the “Venus Zone,” the range of distances from a host star where planets are likely to resemble Earth’s similarly sized sister world, which has been rendered unlivably hot due to a runaway greenhouse effect.

The new study should help scientists get a better handle on how many of the rocky planets spotted by NASA’s prolific Kepler space telescope are truly Earth-like, team members said.

"The Earth is Dr. Jekyll, and Venus is Mr. Hyde, and you can’t distinguish between the two based only on size,” lead author Stephen Kane, of San Francisco State University, said in a statement. “So the question then is, how do you define those differences, and how many ‘Venuses’ is Kepler actually finding?”

The results could also lead to a better understanding of Earth’s history, Kane added.

Location of the 'Venus Zone'
Diagram showing the location of the “Venus Zone,” the area around a star where a planet is likely to exhibit atmospheric and surface conditions similar to those of Venus.
Credit: Chester Harman, Pennsylvania State University

"We believe the Earth and Venus had similar starts in terms of their atmospheric evolution," he said. "Something changed at one point, and the obvious difference between the two is proximity to the sun."

Kane and his team defined the Venus Zone based on solar flux — the amount of stellar energy that orbiting planets receive. The outer edge of the zone is the point at which a runaway greenhouse effect would take hold, with a planet’s temperature soaring thanks to heat-trapping gases in its atmosphere. The inner boundary, meanwhile, is the distance at which stellar radiation would completely strip away a planet’s air.

The thinking is similar to that behind the “habitable zone” — the just-right range of distances from a star at which liquid water, and perhaps life as we know it, may be able to exist.

The dimensions of these astronomical zones vary from star to star, since some stars are hotter than others. In our own solar system, the Venus Zone’s outer boundary lies just inside the orbit of Earth, researchers said.

Future space-based instruments — such as NASA’s $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018 — will be able to analyze some exoplanets’ atmospheres, helping scientists refine the Venus Zone concept, researchers said.

"If we find all of these planets in the Venus Zone have a runaway greenhouse-gas effect, then we know that the distance a planet is from its star is a major determining factor. That’s helpful to understanding the history between Venus and Earth," Kane said.

"This is ultimately about putting our solar system in context," he added. "We want to know if various aspects of our solar system are rare or common."

The Kepler spacecraft launched in March 2009 on a mission to determine how commonly Earth-like planets occur around the Milky Way galaxy. To date, Kepler has detected more than 4,200 exoplanet candidates, 978 of which have been confirmed by follow-up observations or analysis. Mission team members think about 90 percent of the candidates will eventually turn out to be the real deal.

The telescope suffered a glitch in May 2013 that ended its original exoplanet hunt, but Kepler has embarked upon a new mission called K2, which calls for it to observe a range of cosmic objects and phenomena.

New Molecule Found In Space Connotes Life Origins:  

Hunting from a distance of 27,000 light years, astronomers have discovered an unusual carbon-based molecule — one with a branched structure — contained within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space. Like finding a molecular needle in a cosmic haystack, astronomers have detected radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide. The discovery suggests that the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, known as the ALMA Observatory, a group of radio telescopes funded partially through the National Science Foundation, researchers studied the gaseous star-forming region Sagittarius B2.

Astronomers from Cornell, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Cologne (Germany) describe their discovery in the journal Science (Sept. 26.)

Organic molecules usually found in these star-forming regions consist of a single “backbone” of carbon atoms arranged in a straight chain. But the carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide branches off, making it the first interstellar detection of such a molecule, says Rob Garrod, Cornell senior research associate at the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.

This detection opens a new frontier in the complexity of molecules that can be formed in interstellar space and that might ultimately find their way to the surfaces of planets, says Garrod. The branched carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide is a common feature in molecules that are needed for life — such as amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. This new discovery lends weight to the idea that biologically crucial molecules, like amino acids that are commonly found in meteorites, are produced early in the process of star formation — even before planets such as Earth are formed.

Garrod, along with lead author Arnaud Belloche and Karl Menten, both of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Holger Müller, of the University of Cologne, sought to examine the chemical makeup of Sagittarius B2, a region close to the Milky Way’s galactic center and an area rich in complex interstellar organic molecules.

With ALMA, the group conducted a full spectral survey — looking for fingerprints of new interstellar molecules — with sensitivity and resolution 10 times greater than previous surveys.

The purpose of the ALMA Observatory is to search for cosmic origins through an array of 66 sensitive radio antennas from the high elevation and dry air of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. The array of radio telescopes works together to form a gigantic “eye” peering into the cosmos.

"Understanding the production of organic material at the early stages of star formation is critical to piecing together the gradual progression from simple molecules to potentially life-bearing chemistry," said Belloche.

About 50 individual features for isopropyl cyanide (and 120 for normal-propyl cyanide, its straight-chain sister molecule) were identified in the ALMA spectrum of the Sagittarius B2 region. The two molecules — isopropyl cyanide and normal-propyl cyanide — are also the largest molecules yet detected in any star-forming region.

(Source: sciencedaily.com)

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