Astrochemistry: An Emerging Science

Our understanding of the universe relies on many scientific disciplines to explain its structure and evolutionary mechanisms. Over the last few decades, the emerging science of ‘astrochemistry’ has begun to gain momentum in the field of astronomy. This new science aims to detect and identify molecular compounds outside our planet[1]. In the last few years, this research area has expanded to tackle some tough questions such as explaining the formation of solar systems and even the origin of life in the universe.


Astrochemistry utilises a range of advanced telescopes and detection techniques and has led to a number of unique discoveries. Since the first detection of water in interstellar space, many molecules have been discovered which support the conclusion that hydrogen and carbon monoxide are the most abundant molecules in the universe[2]. Astrochemistry has also shown that the presence of dust clouds may enable new chemical reactions in space to take place. It is hoped that this will lead to the discovery of nanoparticles that are able to catalyse oxidizing reactions of organic compounds to produce important molecules such as amino acids[3].

The recent discovery of complex chemical systems in space has been revolutionary for astrochemists. Many of these chemical systems are made of carbon-based structures such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polyines (carbon chains) and fullerenes. Since fullerenes were discovered by Kroto and colleagues[4], there have been several publications trying to find ways to detect these compounds in space. Fullerenes demonstrate the complexity of chemical systems in space and were finally identified by scientists from the University of Western Ontario[5,6]. A large network of chemical reactions was also found, allowing connections between different molecules important for the origin of life. The study of these initial molecules (or ‘building blocks’) for creating life could be based on organic and inorganic chemical structures. By harnessing astrochemical techniques Leroy Cronin, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, is starting to give the first hints to explain how matter may evolve and to describe these important first steps of live matter[7]. A combination of organic molecules, which are appearing in the interstellar space, and inorganic structures found on the surface of planets, could provide the right conditions for life. It is hoped that the emerging field of astrochemistry can work together with other sciences such as fundamental chemistry and astrobiology to detect the first evidence of life in other planets or galaxies.

Tell your friends!Share on Facebook4Tweet about this on Twitter2Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0
Discuss

Author

// Andreu Ruiz de la Oliva is a PhD student in inorganic chemistry at the University of Glasgow.

Creative Commons License Astrochemistry: An Emerging Science by Andreu Ruiz de la Oliva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

References


Other Articles

Therapeutic pollution: a different kettle of fish

When chemicals spill out into the world around us, we need to know what consequences they will have. In general, an opinion of “what doesn’t harm is fine” holds – both for ecotoxicological tests, used to determine the adverse effects of contaminants, and in the community overall. Indeed, it is quite intuitive. But what if … More


Henrietta Lacks: An Ordinary Woman with an Extraordinary Story

Henrietta Lacks was born on August 1st 1920, the ninth child in a poor black family of tobacco farmers in Virginia, USA. At the age of 30, Henrietta developed extremely aggressive cervical cancer. During her treatment she unknowingly donated her cancer cells, which are still growing to this day in laboratories worldwide. Henrietta never knew, … More


Magpies Don’t Favour Shiny Objects

Magpies like to steal shiny, metallic objects to make their nests, right? That’s how the age-old story goes. Rossini even penned an opera on the subject. The birds, part of the crow family, are often celebrated for their intelligence. Magpies are capable of storing food over winter and remembering its location, even remembering which other … More


Quantum Pigeonholes

Here’s a simple idea: You have three pigeons and only two pigeonholes. If you put the pigeons in the pigeonholes you’ll end up with at least one hole that contains two pigeons. Right? Now let’s consider quantum particles. What if you have three quantum particles and two boxes and you try the same thing? Well, … More


Discussion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Fields marked with an * are required. By commenting you consent to us placing cookies on your computer.





You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>