Scientists have successfully created a map of certain mysterious molecules found in space, helping to shed light on a long-standing puzzle, according to new research.

By analyzing the light of hundreds of thousands of celestial objects, Johns Hopkins astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) mapped these enigmatic molecules, which create what astronomers call "Diffuse Interstellar Bands" (DIBs). First discovered in 1922 by astronomer Mary Lea Heger of Lick Observatory, DIBs are defined as unexpected lines that were created by something existing in the interstellar space between the stars and Earth.

It turns out that these mysterious lines were due to a variety of molecules, but which molecules exactly has evaded scientists for some time. But this new map, based on SDSS data, intends to find out.

"We do not have a full map yet, but we can already see a lot of interesting patterns," researcher Brice Ménard said in a statement.

The Johns Hopkins team analyzed the light from more than half a million stars, galaxies, and quasars to measure the movement of these molecules, as well as detect their features in areas beyond our own Milky Way galaxy. For example, some prefer dense regions of gas and dust, while others like the lonelier spots far away from stars.

"These results will guide researchers toward the best observations and laboratory experiments to pin down the properties and nature of these enigmatic molecules," said graduate student Ting-Wen Lan.

"For the first time, we can see how these mysterious molecules are moving around the galaxy," researcher Gail Zasowski added. "This is extremely useful and brings in new connections between these molecules and the dynamics of the Milky Way."

The exact nature of these molecules still remains a mystery, but with this new study scientists are one step closer to solving the puzzle.

Their findings were presented Jan. 8 at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

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