About Me

Rob Pincombe is a prolific television writer, recovering comedian and sometime comic artist/storyboard artist who just wasn't satisfied with a single blog. He writes about sci-fi and fandom at rebelalert.com, Canadian comics at comicanuck.com, and shares thoughts and insights on writing at starkravingadventure.com

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Universe A Trifle? Pt. 1 - Space tastes like raspberries and smells of Rum.

Welcome to the rebellion.

To all you space-faring, would-be conquerors out there, it’s finally official; the way to the universe’s heart may through its stomach.

While I’ve been in orbit on the event horizon of the collapsed black hole my hard drive has become, attempting to coax my lost files from the ether, galactic foodies everywhere were treated to the news that portions of our beloved Milky Way galaxy taste like raspberries and smell faintly of rum. Said combination reminds me simultaneously of my mother’s pie and an old landlord who refused to do even the smallest of handyman jobs without a jigger of scotch or a rum and coke.

Last Tuesday, April 21st, an article announcing this discovery appeared on the Guardian’s science page. For years, astronomers and cosmologists have studied deep space for signs of amino acids, the building blocks of life. Finding such signs would raise the possibility that life could have emerged on other planets after being lightly sprinkled, er, seeded by such vital-to-life molecules.

An electromagnetic study of Sagittarius B2, a huge dust cloud at the centre of our galaxy failed to find amino acids but did uncover evidence of ethyl formate, the chemical chef responsible for the flavour of raspberries and smells just like rum. I shall translate the meaning: Our galaxy is a vast, delicious trifle.

Or as one member of the team put it:

"It does happen to give raspberries their flavour, but there are many other molecules that are needed to make space raspberries," Arnaud Belloche, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, told the Guardian.

That is officially my new favourite science quote.

The same team also found the “lethal chemical propyl cyanide in the same cloud”. I hope the Milky Way has clearly labeled the ingredients in its pantry.

The team has soaring hopes they will one day find Amino acids for several reasons: They have already found almost 50 molecules in their survey, two of which no one has seen before. Last year, they discovered the presence of amino acetonitrile, a molecule that can be used to make amino acids. And finally, ethyl formate and propyl cyanide molecules are the largest molecules found in deep space yet. They are as large as the simplest amino acid, glycine, prompting excitement that more complex molecules are out there to be uncovered.

Thanks to more powerful technology and impossibly powerful telescopes like the ones mentioned in my last post on this stuff, “The Cosmos Tips Its Hand”, astronomy may be the most fascinating arm of science going.

And it’s even more incredible how new discoveries seem to confirm so many pie-in-the-sky ideas from yesteryear. Oh yes… there will be many more food references.

Theoretical physicist, Stephen J. Hawking, though confined to a wheelchair and paralyzed by neuromuscular dystrophy, is more famous than most rock stars. Some of this fame can be attributed to the enormous popularity of his book, A Brief History of Time. But a greater impact may have come from the fact that his fame grew at the same time science fiction found a new renaissance in pop culture.

Hawking has been referenced in song, video games, books, comic books and newspaper strips, cartoons from the Fairly Odd parents to Dilbert, a Red Dwarf television special and the sixth season cliffhanger of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Descent, Pt. 1).

On one of his numerous appearances on the Simpsons animated series, They Saved Lisa’s Brain (Season 10, 1999), Hawking has a drink with Homer at Moe’s and muses, “Your theory of a donut-shaped universe is intriguing, Homer. I may have to steal it.”

Hah ha. The universe is like food.

Wait, could it be…?

More next time in Pt. 2!...


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