ASU Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

Insight Into Where Our Carbon Inventory Came From

Ball and stick representation of benzonitrile (C6H5CN). Credit: B. McGuire, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Using the Green Bank Telescope in West Viriginia, researchers found the spectral signature of benzonitrile in the Taurus Molecular Cloud 1, an aromatic compound containing a 6-carbon ring that is a precursor to larger, more complex aromatic carbon compounds. Since it is hypothesized that those larger compounds-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)-are where most of the universe’s carbon is locked away, benzonitrile could be the smoking gun that leads to the discovery of PAHs. Knowing whether this hypothesis is correct or not would help astronomers narrow down the process that gives life-harboring planets, like Earth, their carbon.

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