Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

’Bumpy space dust’ explains origin of most common molecule in universe

22.06.2005


Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison once said that the most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.
While the verdict is still out on the volume of stupidity, scientists have long known that hydrogen is indeed by far the most abundant element in the universe. When they peer through their telescopes, they see hydrogen in the vast clouds of dust and gas between stars –- especially in the denser regions that are collapsing to form new stars and planets.

But one mystery has remained: why is much of that hydrogen in molecular form –- with two hydrogen atoms bonded together –- rather than its single atomic form? Where did all that molecular hydrogen come from? Ohio State University researchers recently decided to try to figure it out.


They discovered that one seemingly tiny detail -- whether the surfaces of interstellar dust grains are smooth or bumpy -- could explain why there is so much molecular hydrogen in the universe. They reported their results at the 60th International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy, held at Ohio State University .

Hydrogen is the simplest atomic element known; it consists of just one proton and one electron. Scientists have always taken for granted the existence of molecular hydrogen when forming theories about where all the larger and more elaborate molecules in the universe came from. But nobody could explain how so many hydrogen atoms were able to form molecules -- until now.

For two hydrogen atoms to have enough energy to bond in the cold reaches of space, they first have to meet on a surface, explained Eric Herbst, Distinguished University Professor of physics at Ohio State.

Though scientists suspected that space dust provided the necessary surface for such chemical reactions, laboratory simulations of the process never worked. At least, they didn’t work well enough to explain the full abundance of molecular hydrogen that scientists see in space.

Herbst, professor of physics, chemistry, and astronomy, joined with Herma Cuppen, a postdoctoral researcher, and Qiang Chang, a doctoral student, both in physics, to simulate different dust surfaces on a computer. They then modeled the motion of two hydrogen atoms tumbling along the different surfaces until they found one another to form a molecule.

Given the amount of dust that scientists think is floating in space, the Ohio State researchers were able to simulate the creation of the right amount of hydrogen, but only on bumpy surfaces.

When it comes to making molecular hydrogen, the ideal microscopic host surface is “less like the flatness of Ohio and more like a Manhattan skyline,” Herbst said.

The problem with past simulations, it seems, is that they always assumed a flat surface.

Cuppen understands why. “When you want to test something, starting with a flat surface is just faster and easier,” she said

She should know. She’s an expert in surface science, yet it still took her months to assemble the bumpy dust model, and she’s still working to refine it. Eventually, other scientists will be able to use the model to simulate other chemical reactions in space.

In the meantime, the Ohio State scientists are collaborating with colleagues at other institutions who are producing and using actual bumpy surfaces that mimic the texture of space dust. Though real space dust particles are as small as grains of sand, these larger, dime-sized surfaces will enable scientists to test whether different textures help molecular hydrogen to form in the lab.

Eric Herbst | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.osu.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>