Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

The Taurus Molecular Cloud is the dark, obscured region in the upper left of the image, where the gas and dust are blocking the stars behind the cloud from view. Taken from Charlottesville, VA on January 2, 2018. Credit: Brett A. McGuire

For the first time, scientists have identified a complex molecule in a distant part of the solar system, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science. The find brings scientists closer to solving a 30 year old astronomical mystery.

Why it matters: The researchers identified benzonitrile, a molecule made of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, which is thought to be a building block for two other types of molecules that are possible precursors for life on Earth. By finding it — and developing a technique precise enough to identify specific molecules in distant space — scientists are closer to understanding the types of material that may form planets and the composition of our universe.

The mystery: 30 years ago, scientists saw bands of infrared light in many places in interstellar space that couldn’t be explained. They suspected large groups of two molecules — polycyclic aromatic nitrogen heterocyles (PANH) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) — could be responsible. By one estimate, 20% of the carbon in the universe is bound up in a PAH. On Earth, they’re considered a carcinogen, and are produced when things burn — like fossil fuels.

Both PAH and PANH are potential precursors to life on Earth but are extremely hard to find in interstellar space so researchers instead chose to hunt for its precursor benzonitrile. Identifying it brings them closer to solving that mystery. Additionally, Brett McGuire and his team at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory noted that benzonitrile could, itself, be involved in the creation of the mysterious infrared bands.

"[The molecules] can form the seeds for interstellar dust. This dust eventually forms rings and planets," McGuire said in a press conference. Additionally, they contain carbon and hydrogen, which are essential for life. When exposed to radiation, they could break down to form life's building blocks, said McGuire.

How they did it: The study authors pointed the Green Bank Telescope at a distant molecular cloud in the Taurus region, and precisely measured the wavelengths the telescope absorbed. They were able to identify a number of molecules, including benzonitrile. Then, they performed a series of lab experiments to confirm that benzonitrile does, indeed, produce the wavelengths seen in Taurus.

One cool thing: Aromatic molecules aren’t called that because of what they smell like, but for the type of bonds they form. BUT: for the curious, benzonitrile smells like almonds.

Go deeper

18 mins ago - Technology

Facebook: Metaverse won't "move fast and break things"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook on Monday said it will invest $50 million over two years in global research and program partners to ensure its metaverse products "are developed responsibly."

Why it matters: "It's almost the opposite of that now long-abandoned slogan of 'move fast and break things,'" Facebook's VP of global affairs Nick Clegg told Axios in an interview at The Atlantic Festival Monday.

Ina Fried, author of Login
28 mins ago - Technology

Facebook presses "pause" on Instagram Kids

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Facebook's announcement Monday that it was "pausing development" on Instagram Kids did little to slow a wave of criticism of the project ahead of a Senate hearing Thursday.

Yes, but: There's an argument to be made for building kids' versions of popular apps, even if their adult versions are causing real-world harms.

Ford's big plans to turbocharge the electric car industry in the U.S.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Ford Motor Company’s new $11 billion manufacturing plan, the biggest component of which will sit just outside Memphis, is part of a much bigger effort to put the U.S. at the center of the electric vehicle revolution, executive chairman Bill Ford says.

The big picture: Ford’s plans — for enormous facilities in both Tennessee and Kentucky, employing a combined 11,000 workers — are ambitious manufacturing efforts designed to minimize their environmental impact.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!