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Heavenly Chemistry: Astronomers announce astrophysical anion

The discovery of a negatively charged organic molecule in space may provide new insight into the formation of amino acids, sugars, and other prebiologic compounds in interstellar gas clouds, the regions that spawn stars and planets.

The compound, known as octatetraynyl, is one of only three negatively charged ions identified in the heavens, and it's the longest molecule of the three. Researchers over the past few decades have discovered about 130 neutral molecular species and about 12 types of positively charged ions in space. Not until late last year did astronomers find the first example of a single negatively charged ion, or anion.

Some researchers had suggested that anions, which have one or more extra electrons in comparison with a neutral molecule, might be too fragile to exist for long periods. By contrast, it seemed reasonable that positively charged ions, which can easily be created by cosmic rays striking neutral compounds, should be more abundant.

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