As I write this editorial, festivities of the holiday season are in the air. Wishes of “Happy Holidays” are floating across continents, crossing religious and cultural boundaries. It is not just Christmas or Hannukah or Deepawali—there are people celebrating Lohri, or Ashura, or the Yalda night, or Kwanzaa, or Poush Parbon, or one of many other festivals. Different stories, different legends, some celebrations more prominent than others, but there is one common theme: the human ability to celebrate light at the darkest of times, to seek out and worship the Sun when it is least present (to the extent that these traditions all evolved in the Northern Hemisphere). That ability is called for more than ever this year. As I sit here nursing a warm cup in my palms, I feel grateful for the privilege of having experienced festivals of light in so many different forms—it gives context and perspective to much cultural diversity and difference.

It is similar in science. Growing up as a geologist fed by Carl Sagan science fiction, the blue planet and the Earth were synonymous to me; that is, until I got exposed to other perspectives—planetary perspectives. I came to know that there are other planets in our Solar System that are bluer—the ice giants Uranus and Neptune. Like stories underlying “Happy Holidays”, the reason for the blue is different for these different planets. If water makes the Earth blue, it is methane in the case of Uranus and Neptune. That simple recognition triggers an entire chain of awareness—methane is an organic molecule—we on Earth do not have proprietary rights to organics! All of a sudden, we are also reminded that the boundary between desirable and undesirable is a matter of context—while methane is a harmful greenhouse gas for us on Earth, it is what makes the planets blue and beautiful for Uranus and Neptune.

“We on Earth do not have proprietary rights to organics.”

Once the curiosity is piqued, one wishes to delve deeper into organics elsewhere beyond Earth. You are at the right place with this issue. Not only are organic materials not a matter for only the Earth, they are not even restricted to the Solar System! The interstellar medium and other planetary systems are teeming with an entire armada of organic molecules. It takes superlative analytical efforts to find and characterize them—the authors of this issue tell you how. Pondering primitive organic matter invariably tickles thoughts about the origin of life—while sampling the buffet on offer in this issue, including the diverse pathways along which organic molecules have evolved, I could not resist contemplating the age old question: Are we alone? The authors of this issue do not attempt to leap and provide an answer; they do what scientists do—keep their feet on the ground, even as they explore outer space and deliver data that might be building blocks of the answer some day. For now, this issue shines light on organic matter in the dark and distant recesses of space—I welcome you to undertake the voyage to explore and broaden your perspective.

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