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 Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin
23.01.2017 | Ferdinand-Braun-Institut Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik

nachricht SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University

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: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

The interactome of infected neural cells reveals new therapeutic targets for Zika

23.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>