High Velocity Clouds - Unexpected Chemicals Detected in Interstellar Clouds

Unexpected Chemicals Detected in Interstellar Clouds

Until recently the rates of reactions in interstellar clouds were expected to be very slow, with minimal products being produced due to the low temperature and density of the clouds. However, organic molecules were observed in the spectra that scientists would not have expected to find under these conditions, such as formaldehyde, methanol, and vinyl alcohol. The reactions needed to create such substances are familiar to scientists only at the much higher temperatures and pressures of earth and earth-based laboratories. The fact that they were found indicates that these chemical reactions in interstellar clouds take place faster than suspected, likely in gas-phase reactions unfamiliar to organic chemistry as observed on earth. These reactions are studied in the CRESU experiment.

Interstellar clouds also provide a medium to study the presence and proportions of metals in space. The presence and ratios of these elements may help develop theories on the means of their production, especially when their proportions are inconsistent with those expected to arise from stars as a result of fusion and thereby suggest alternate means, such as cosmic ray spallation.

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