Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, Ricardo Amils, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII, William M. Irvine, Daniele L. Pinti, Michel Viso

Complex Organic Molecules

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-11274-4_337


The term “complex organic molecules” is used differently in astronomy and chemistry. In astronomy, complex organic molecules are molecules with multiple carbon atoms such as benzene and acetic acid. These molecules have been detected in interstellar space with radio telescopes. In chemistry, “complex organic molecules” refer to polymer-like molecules such as proteins. Proteins are typical complex organic polymers with well-defined three-dimensional shapes, composed of 20 kinds of amino acids. Given the immense possible variety of these polymers, they are indeed “complex.” During chemical evolution, other types of complex organic compounds can be formed. For example, HCN polymerizes to give polymers of complex undefined structure. A gas mixture of methane and nitrogen also yields complex organic compounds upon UV irradiation or exposure to an electric discharge. These are sometimes referred to as tholins, and they can be formed abiotically in the atmosphere of Titan(the...

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Yokohama National UniversityTokiwadai, Hodogaya-ku YokohamaJapan