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Sweet Cloud

You never know what astronomers will turn up next. In the case of a stellar nursery in the heart of the galaxy, they found ethyl formate — the molecule that gives raspberries their flavor. Since it smells a bit like rum, it’s been called the “raspberry rum” molecule.

B2 is a cloud of gas, dust, and young stars, about 400 light-years from the center of the Milky Way. It’s one of the biggest and busiest in the entire galaxy: It spans about 150 light-years, is eight million times the mass of the Sun, and has given birth to more than 30,000 stars. Most of the stars are small and faint, but a few are monsters — dozens of times the mass of the Sun.

The entire cloud is filled with complex molecules. B2 contains just about every molecule seen anywhere outside our solar system; about half of them were discovered there.

The list includes ethyl alcohol, formaldehyde, and a cyanide compound. Some of the molecules are among the chemical building blocks of amino acids, the building blocks of life. That includes the raspberry rum molecule — a sweet hint that the ingredients for life can be found in the stars.

B2 is about 27,000 light-years away, in Sagittarius. The constellation is low in the southeast at nightfall, and looks like a teapot. B2 is in the “steam” above the spout — a fragrant stellar nursery immersed in the glow of the Milky Way.

More about the center of the galaxy tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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