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"Interstellar Space is a Quantum-Ruled Organic Chemistry Lab"

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  • derhexerus
    Interesting discussion from The Daily Galaxy Chris (Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change) ____________________________________ From:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2013
      Interesting discussion from The Daily Galaxy


      (Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change)

      From: vlandi@...
      To: derhexer@...
      Sent: 7/5/2013 6:25:47 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time
      Subj: The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond

      _The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond_

      _"Interstellar Space is a Quantum-Ruled Organic Chemistry Lab"_
      Posted: 05 Jul 2013 12:14 PM PDT

      There may be a suite of organic chemical reactions occurring in
      _interstellar space_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_space) that astronomers
      haven't considered. In 2012, astronomers discovered methoxy molecules containing
      carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in the _Perseus molecular cloud_
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perseus_molecular_cloud) , around 600 light years from
      Earth. But researchers were unable to reproduce this molecule in the lab by
      allowing reactants to condense on dust grains, leaving a mystery as to how it
      could have formed. The answer was found in Quantum weirdness that can
      generate a molecule in space that shouldn't exist by the classic rules of
      chemistry. In short, interstellar space is a kind of quantum chemistry lab, that
      may create a host of other organic molecules astronomers have discovered
      in space.Because of the cold temperatures within the interstellar molecular
      clouds, reactions with an _activation barrier_
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activation_energy) were considered too slow to play an important role
      for most chemical reactions to occur. The low temperature makes it tough for
      molecules drifting through space to acquire the energy needed to break
      their bonds, but some reactions could occur when different molecules stick to
      the surface of cosmic dust grain. This might give them enough time together
      to acquire the energy needed to react. "There is a standard law that says
      as you lower the temperature, the rates of reactions should slow down," says
      Dwayne Heard of the University of Leeds, UK.
      But methoxy could also be created by combining a hydroxyl radical and
      methanol gas, both present in space through a process called quantum tunnelling
      that can give the hydroxyl radical a chance to tunnnel through the energy
      barrier instead of going over it. Heard and colleagues discovered that
      despite the presence of a barrier, the rate coefficient for the reaction
      between the hydroxyl radical (_OH_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroxyl) ) and
      methanol—one of the most abundant organic molecules in space—is almost two
      orders of magnitude larger at 63 K than previously measured at ∼200 K. At
      low temperatures, the molecules slow down, increasing the likelihood of
      tunnelling. "At normal temperatures they just collide off each other, but when
      you go down in temperature they hang out together long enough," says Heard.
      The team also observed the formation of the _methoxy radical_
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methoxy) molecule, created by the formation of a
      hydrogen-bonded complex that is sufficiently long-lived to undergo
      _quantum-mechanical tunnelling_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_tunnelling) . They
      concluded that this tunnelling mechanism for the oxidation of organic molecules
      by OH is widespread in low-temperature interstellar environments. The
      reaction occurred 50 times faster via quantum tunnelling than if it occurred
      normally at room temperature by hurdling the energy barrier. Empty space is
      much colder than 63 kelvin, but dust clouds near stars can reach this
      temperature, added Heard.
      "We're showing there is organic chemistry in space of the type of
      reactions where it was assumed these just wouldn't happen," says Heard.
      The image at the top of the page shows the Perseus Molecular Cloud At
      microwave wavelengths, taken by the Planck Space Craft which sees electons
      moving through the Milky Way, and dust being warmed by starlight from stars
      forming within. These components of the interstellar medium have studied at
      length over several decades. The electrons are known to emit primarily at
      radio waves (low frequencies), while the dust grains primarily in the
      far-infrared (high frequencies).
      In the 1990s, emission was observed which couldn't be explained by either,
      and became known as "Anomalous Microwave Emission". Several theories of
      the origin of this emission have been proposed, and now the wavelength
      coverage of Planck's Low Frequency Instrument is ideal for observing and
      characterising it.
      An advantage that Planck has is that the combination of the two
      instruments give a much broader wavelength coverage, which allows the separation of
      this anomalous emission from the better understood components.
      “We are now becoming rather confident that the emission is due to
      nano-scale spinning grains of dust, which rotate up to ten thousand million times
      per second,” says Clive Dickinson from the University of Manchester, who led
      an analysis of the AME using Planck's maps. “These are the smallest dust
      grains known, comprising only 10 to 50 atoms; spun up by collisions with
      atoms or photons, they emit radiation at frequencies between 10 and 60 GHz,”
      he explains.
      This region in the constellation of Perseus shown was one of two regions
      within our Galaxy studied in detail. Thanks to Planck's high sensitivity and
      to its unprecedented spectral coverage, it has been possible to
      characterise the anomalous emission arising from these two objects in such great
      detail that many of the alternative theories could be discarded, and to show
      that at least a significant contribution to the AME, if not the only one, is
      due to nano-scale spinning dust grains.
      Journal reference: _Nature Chemistry_ (http://www.nature.com/nchem) , DOI:
      The Daily Galaxy via Nature Chemistry, Space.com, and New Scientist
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