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

The Dark Web

What do you do if you want drugs, hitmen, weapons or fake passports? Search the internet, of course! But a regular ol’ search engine isn’t going to be much help, especially as you’re probably being watched. So even if you do manage to order some nefarious goods, you will probably get caught. Now, we’re certainly … More


Drugs Regulation: should Scotland lead the Neuroscientific Enlightenment?

As part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2015’s Brainwaves mini-festival and the British Neuroscience Association’s Festival of Neuroscience, controversial former UK Government advisor Prof David Nutt of Imperial College London will discuss the ways he believes a radical policy rethink could transform the classification of drugs and alcohol and their impact on our society … More


Big Bang Bash Science Party

If you ever wondered what happens at a scientific night out, this is your chance to find out. Edinburgh Science Festival presents Big Bang Bash, an out-of-this-world party and Full Spectrum, our first club night. In association with the National Museum of Scotland we give you a space-themed party Big Bang Bash - Friday, 10 April … More


The foreign within

A recent study, published in Genome Biology, claims to have found at least 145 ‘foreign’ genes in human DNA . In order to detect these ‘intruders’, a team of scientists scanned human DNA for segments with close resemblance to genes of non-animals (such as fungi or bacteria), but not genes found in other animals. Additionally, … 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>