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Evolving clouds
- The Molecules that Fell to Earth

Dense molecular clouds are transient astronomical features; they exist for between one million and 100 million years - not long at all on cosmic timescales. Astronomers believe that sections of the clouds eventually collapse in on themselves under gravity, to form a star or stars. However, for a certain period of time in its early life, a star will be a protostar embedded in the dense molecular cloud. The protostar warms the cloud and may instigate the formation of the kind of complex organic molecules created by Scott Sandford in the laboratory.

Interestingly, the XCN feature has been detected in protostellar environments, but not in molecular clouds, indicating that it is in these protostellar environments that the complex organic molecules are to be found.

Dense molecular clouds photographed by the Hubble space telescope

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