Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Complex Organic Molecules

  • Kensei Kobayashi
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_337-5


In astronomy, complex organic molecules are defined as molecules with several carbon atoms such as benzene or acetic acid. These molecules have been detected in interstellar space using radio telescopes. A gas mixture of methane and nitrogen, for example, 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 largest satellite of Saturn).

In chemistry, “complex organic molecules” generally refer to much larger polymer-like molecules such as proteins. Proteins are typical complex organic polymers, with well-defined three-dimensional structures, composed of 20 different amino acids. Given the immense possible variety of these polymers, they are indeed “complex.”

See Also


Organic Matter Acetic Acid Organic Compound Carbon Atom Bioorganic Chemistry 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Yokohama National UniversityYokohamaJapan