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Organic Molecules Detected in the Early Universe

Using the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope, scientists have detected organic molecules in galaxies that existed when the universe was 4 billion years old, (only a quarter of its current age of approximately 14 billion years). The molecules are known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). They consist of carbon and hydrogen. They are considered to be building blocks of life.

These complex molecules are common on Earth. They form whenever materials containing carbon are not burned completely. They can be found, for example, in exhaust smoke from engines, in char-grilled meat and in burnt toast.

The molecules are in the Milky Way and other galaxies. They play a significant role in star and planet formation. Spitzer is the first telescope to see these molecules in the early universe.