April 2006


Methanol (CH3OH) is a common astromolecule with implications for astrobiology. The first reported interstellar detection was in 1970 by Ball et al. in Sgr A and Sgr B2 using the 140 foot telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia. Various isotopomers have been observed such as CH3OD (Mauersberger et al.), CH2DOH (Jacq et al.), and the 13C-substituted form (Gottlieb et al.). Methanol was also observed in comet Austin by Bockelée-Morvan et al.

UPDATE (July 2018): Methanol was detected in the protoplanetary disk TW Hydrae by Walsh et al. in 2016.

Mathanol is one of a number of astromolecules that exhibit maser activity in the interstellar medium. Astrophysical masers occur where starlight results in narrow and intense features in the microwave and submillimeter regions. Masers are analogous to lasers, which generate coherent electromagnetic radiation at higher energies (infrared through x-ray).

As a common species containing three of the four most plentiful biogenic elements (CHON), methanol plays an important role in astrobiology. For example, it is a component of interstellar ices. When ices containing water, methanol, and other common astromolecules such as HCN and ammonia are energetically processed in the laboratory, complex mixtures of organic molecules are produced, which may include glycine and other amino acids or their precursors.

Methanol is also known as wood alcohol, due to the various processes by which it can be destructively distilled from sawdust and other wood waste. It is a cousin of methyl mercaptan, another observed astromolecule where O is replaced with S.

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Maintained by DE Woon
Links verified / updated 30 July 2018