July 4, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Dead Molecules Found Around Star!

Let’s tell the news the way it should be told: astronomers have found the building blocks of death in outer space.

GIDO: Garbage In, Darwin Out (see also DIDO and DIGO). —Darwin Dictionary

Despite funding from NASA in the millions of dollars, the concocted science called ‘astrobiology’ (there’s no ‘bio’ in it: see 12/17/14) has not a single example of life beyond Earth. What excites astrobiologists is planets that might be habitable, and molecules that might contribute to life. The latest example of GIDO thinking is clear in Astrobiology Magazine‘s headline, “Prebiotic Molecules Discovered on Accretion Disk of Baby Star.” To keep the dream alive, they never say post-biotic or a-biotic, which would be depressing. Instead, they tempt with suggestive phrases like “building blocks of life” stated with emotion. This time, materialists in Taiwan take a turn titillating NASA’s raison d’ê·tre:

These molecules play a crucial role in producing the rich organic chemistry needed for life. The discovery suggests that the building blocks of life are produced in such disks at the very beginning of star formation and that they are available to be incorporated into planets that form in the disk subsequently. It could help us understand how life came to be on Earth.

“It is so exciting to discover complex organic molecules on an accretion disk around a baby star,” says Chin-Fei Lee at ASIAA.

Typical heap of happy hope hype for astrobiology. So what was found this time?

  • Methanol (CH3OH): This is wood alcohol, the simplest alcohol, just methane with one hydrogen replaced by hydroxide. It causes blindness and death in people who drink it.
  • Deuterated methanol (CH2DOH): Same thing, but with one hydrogen replaced by deuterium (heavy hydrogen, containing an extra neutron). Don’t drink this stuff, either. No living cells use it, so why is it called prebiotic?
  • Methanethiol (CH3SH): Similar to methanol except with sulfur instead of oxygen, this is “a colorless, flammable gas with an extremely strong and repulsive smell.” Metabolism of certain foods produces this molecule in small amounts but it gets expelled in flatulence and feces. Also known as methyl mercaptan, “At very high concentrations it is highly toxic and affects the central nervous system,” Wikipedia says. In fact, humans can begin to smell it at one part per billion. A leak of the stuff killed four employees at a DuPont plant in Texas in 2014.
  • Formamide (NH2CHO): Wikipedia says, “Formamide is moderately irritating to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Inhalation of large amounts of formamide vapor may require medical attention. It is also a teratogen [carcinogen]. Formamide has been shown to exhibit hematoxicity [liver poisoning] in animals and is considered hazardous by prolonged exposure through inhalation, oral intake and dermal absorption. Formamide should never be handled without proper safety attire including gloves and goggles.”

One wonders why scientists don’t call these the “building blocks of death.” Astrobiologists hang their hope on the fact that intelligently-designed experiments in the lab can use these ingredients to build up more complex molecules that life does use, including amino acids and sugars. “These molecules have been proposed to be the precursors for producing biomolecules such as amino acids and sugars,” they say, without pointing out that along with the hopeful molecules, a multitude of toxins are also produced. As for the useful molecules, they never quite say how blind chance can get them all in the left-handed form (read about this problem).

Most people probably wouldn’t get excited about molecules that cause bad breath, smelly farts, blindness, and death, so astrobiologists need to do a little marketing as part of their job.

The team’s observations open up an exciting possibility of detecting complex organic molecules in disks around other baby stars through high-resolution and high-sensitivity imaging with ALMA, which provides strong constraints on theories of prebiotic chemistry in star and planet formation. In addition, the observations open up the possibility of detecting more complex organic molecules and biomolecules that could shed light on the origin of life.

But why stop at one level of complexity? Atoms are building blocks of life, too. The headline could have read, “Hydrogen Discovered at Baby Star” with stories of how hydrogen atoms become incorporated into water used by cells. Quarks are building blocks of life. Think of the headlines that could be told with quarks—”From quark to quack: how ducks emerged from starstuff.”

Contrariwise, one can get too high on the scale of complexity. Astrobiologists are not likely to say, “Proteins Discovered at Baby Star” or “Genes Found in Outer Space” — but why not? If life is so easy to make, and so ubiquitous, these complex molecules should arise naturally all the time. Realistic chemists know that complex molecules with those levels of specified complexity are ruled out by probability and by natural laws of chemistry, particularly if they are homochiral (single-handed) and possess functionality for life. And because they are so tenuous outside of cells, they are not likely to survive in space for long. UV radiation, collisions, and interactions with other reactive molecules—including oxygen—will see to that.

Update 7/07/17: Space.com took this life thing to ridiculous extremes, serving up its building blocks of life in a “space hamburger” with “giant bun and patty, if you will.” Suggestion: don’t eat this thing.

Blind chemistry is depressing. To keep the money flowing for astrobiology, its proponents offer trips to Fantasyland, where the soothing lines of ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ put taxpayers into a trance as NASA lifts their wallets.

 

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