Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

University of Georgia researchers show component of mothballs is present in deep-space clouds

04.09.2009
Interstellar clouds, drifting through the unimaginable vastness of space, may be the stuff dreams are made of. But it turns out there's an unexpectedly strange component in those clouds, and it's not dreams but—mothballs?

Well, not exactly, but researchers from the University of Georgia have just shown for the first time that one component of clouds emitting unusual infrared light know as the Unidentified Infrared Bands (UIRs) is a gaseous version of naphthalene, the chief component of mothballs back on Earth. The UIRs have been seen by astronomers for more than 30 years, but no one has ever identified what specific molecules cause these patterns.

The discovery that a special kind of naphthalene with a single extra proton is out in space is important to those studying interstellar regions for many reasons. One of the most important is that the UIRs are associated with interstellar dust, and understanding the components of that dust could give clues to the origin of these mysterious voyagers. The new information may also provide insights into stellar lifecycles.

The research, led by Michael Duncan, Regents Professor of Chemistry at UGA, was just published in the Astrophysical Journal. The department of chemistry is part of UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Co-authors on the paper were Allen Ricks, a doctoral student in Duncan's lab and Gary Douberly, formerly a postdoctoral associate in Duncan's lab and now an assistant professor in the department of chemistry at UGA.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

"This came about because we found a way in our lab to make protonated naphthalene ions," said Duncan, "and that allowed us to examine its infrared spectrum. It turned out to be a near-perfect match for one of the main features in the UIRs."

That naphthalene is part of the UIRs is not totally unexpected, as it is composed of only hydrogen and carbon. Hydrogen composes by far the largest part of interstellar clouds, and carbon is another abundant element there. (This is known because scientists can measure their "light signals" or spectra and compare them to such spectra that can be generated in labs.) Still, it opens an entirely new area of study for astrophysicists and chemists who continue to understand the composition of space and the origins of the Universe.

Most people know naphthalene in its earthly crystalline form as C10H8, meaning it has 10 molecules of carbon and eight of hydrogen. The spectrum of this form of naphthalene does not match the UIRs. Duncan and his colleagues, however, had reason to believe that adding an extra proton to naphthalene (from the abundant hydrogen in space), which latches on in an unlikely space collision to give it the formula C10H9 +, might cause just the kind of change in its spectrum to match the UIR pattern.

To see if the component out there in space is protonated naphthalene, they had to first create it in the lab, under conditions near Absolute Zero and then zap it with a laser, turning it into a gas, whose infrared spectrum could then be analyzed. The bad news is that "infrared" refers to radiation whose wavelength is longer than that of visible light and so can't be seen by the naked eye. The good news is that the sophisticated machines in Duncan's lab can both "see" infrared spectrum, and identify what molecule produced it, allowing the distinctive spectrum of protonated naphthalene to be measure for the first time.

It turned out that when Duncan and his team did all this, the spectrum from their laboratory-created protonated naphthalene was almost identical to the spectrum seen in one part of the UIR.

What does it all mean? First, other scientists had found that interstellar dust is responsible for the production of molecular hydrogen from its atoms, which is the principal component of interstellar clouds. Other chemical processes taking place on the surface of dust grains are believed to form many molecules found on Earth, perhaps including the amino acids and peptides essential as the building blocks of life. And it is in these clouds that new stars form, so understanding how naphthalene fits into the equation (so to speak) of all this could provide insights into how stars and planetary systems form.

The new research also helps confirm earlier predictions that molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are the main source of the UIRs, since protonated naphthalene is a PAH.

"Protonated naphthalene itself does not explain all the UIR spectra," said Duncan, "but the characteristics of its spectrum suggest that a distribution of larger protonated PAHs could do this. The same spectral changes caused by the addition of protons to these larger systems would likely explain all the UIR patterns, thus ending one of the oldest mysteries in astronomy." Duncan and his group are now working to make and study these larger protonated PAHs.

Duncan's success in simulating the conditions of deep space in the lab and capturing that elusive proton could also have a payoff in studying other components of stellar clouds too.

Philiip Lee Williams | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uga.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Studying fundamental particles in materials
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney

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: 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...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

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

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Smart homes will “LISTEN” to your voice

17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>