Stars concoct complex molecules
By JASON PALMER - BBC NEWS - SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT
Added: Fri, 28 Oct 2011 10:26:08 UTC
The chemical factories around young stars may give rise to far more complex molecules than previously thought.
Young stars eject massive amounts of material into the surrounding "interstellar medium"
Relatively complex, carbon-containing molecules have been found in comets and on planets before, thought to have been made elsewhere in our Solar System.
But "unidentified infrared emissions" seen from the cosmos, says a new report in Nature, may come from even larger molecules forged near young stars.
They say these "stellar organics" may have been delivered to the early Earth.
Much of the chemistry that happens elsewhere in the cosmos remains mysterious, leaving astronomers to guess how nature assembles molecules.
It has generally been assumed that fairly simple molecules could be assembled in the area around young stars, while more complex materials formed later, in cooler conditions.
Adding to the mystery, though, have been unidentified infrared emissions (UIE), emanating from a range of sources in our galaxy and beyond.
This infrared light must come from molecular vibrations - the waggling of one atom relative to another within molecules that absorb light of higher wavelengths from other sources. Light in the infrared is then emitted as the wagglings die out.
Like the strings of a piano, each molecular vibration has its own note, but the unidentified infrared emissions are a rich, dense "chord" of notes that makes the nature of the emitting molecules extremely difficult to unpick.
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