Nav: Home

The fingerprints of molecules in space

June 28, 2018

In 2014, astrophysicists discovered a spectral line in observational data from the Herschel Space Telescope and tentatively assigned it to the amide ion. It would have been the first proof of the existence of this molecule in space. Physicists within the group of Roland Wester from the Institute of Ion Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Innsbruck have now shown this assumption to be incorrect.

Characteristic frequencies

In addition to stars, galaxies are populated by regions that contain gigantic dust and gas clouds. Such regions, making up the interstellar medium (ISM), act as the birthplace for new stars which form when the clouds collapse under their own gravity and reach sufficient densities for fusion reactions to occur. In order to better understand these processes, it is important to know exactly the chemical composition of the ISM which is most often determined via the frequencies (spectral lines) measured by radio telescopes.

In the case of the amide ion, the team led by Roland Wester has measured two previously unknown frequencies in the laboratory for the first time. The adopted method, known as terahertz spectroscopy, has allowed the lines to be determined a hundred times more accurately than was previously possible. "In this technique, wavelengths between microwaves and infrared light are used," explains the physicist. "This allows the rotation of very small molecules to be studied. For larger molecules, vibrations of whole molecular groups can be determined."

In a project funded by the European Research Council ERC, the group of Roland Wester has developed a method by which molecules confined in ion traps are excited with terahertz radiation. "The amide ion consists of a nitrogen atom and two hydrogen atoms, looks just like water and behaves very similar in terms of quantum mechanics," says Olga Lakhmanskaya from Roland Wester's team. "For the first time, we directly measured the elementary excitation of the rotation of this molecule." The proof also came about thanks to a close collaboration with the theoretician Viatcheslav Kokoouline of the University of Central Florida, who was a visiting professor at the University of Innsbruck for a semester.

Tentative assignment disproved

The physicists from Innsbruck have now been able to show that the previously measured spectral line cannot be produced by amide ions by comparison with the data obtained from the Herschel Space Telescope. "We were able to show, with our measurements, that this tentative assignment is not correct," stresses Roland Wester. In the Universe one can find various nitrogen molecules such as ammonia but, according to the Innsbruck experiments, it remains to be shown that the amide ion is also present. The second spectral line determined by the physicists however could assist in searching for this species in space. "We hope that in the future, with new telescopes, this line can be observed leading to its detection in space." Wester's team now wants to apply the new method to molecules with four or five atoms, where vibrations and rotations are much more complex than with the triatomic amide.
-end-
Publication: Rotational Spectroscopy of a Triatomic Molecular Anion. Olga Lakhmanskaya, Malcolm Simpson, Simon Murauer, Markus Nötzold, Eric Endres, Viatcheslav Kokoouline, and Roland Wester. Phys. Rev. Lett. 120, 253003 DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.120.253003

Contacts:

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Roland Wester
Department of Ion Physics and Applied Physics
University of Innsbruck
Tel.: +43 512 507-52620
E-Mail: roland.wester@uibk.ac.at
Web: https://www.uibk.ac.at/ionen-angewandte-physik/

Dr. Christian Flatz
Public Relations
University of Innsbruck
Tel.: +43 512 507-32022
E-Mail: christian.flatz@uibk.ac.at
Web: https://www.uibk.ac.at/

University of Innsbruck

Related Molecules Articles:

The inner lives of molecules
Researchers from Canada, the UK and Germany have developed a new experimental technique to take 3-D images of molecules in action.
Novel technique helps ID elusive molecules
Stuart Lindsay, a researcher at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, has devised a clever means of identifying carbohydrate molecules quickly and accurately.
How solvent molecules cooperate in reactions
Molecules from the solvent environment that at first glance seem to be uninvolved can be essential for chemical reactions.
A new way to display the 3-D structure of molecules
Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley Researchers have developed nanoscale display cases that enables new atomic-scale views of hard-to-study chemical and biological samples.
Bending hot molecules
Hot molecules are found in extreme environments such as the edges of fusion reactors.
At attention, molecules!
University of Iowa chemists have learned about a molecular assembly that may help create quicker, more responsive touch screens, among other applications.
Folding molecules into screw-shaped structures
An international research team describes the methods of winding up molecules into screw-shaped structures.
Artificial molecules
A new method allows scientists at ETH Zurich and IBM to fabricate artificial molecules out of different types of microspheres.
Molecules that may keep you young and alive
A new study may have uncovered the fountain of youth: plant extracts containing the six best groups of anti-aging molecules ever seen.
Fun with Lego (molecules)
A great childhood pleasure is playing with LegosĀ® and marveling at the variety of structures you can create from a small number of basic elements.

Related Molecules Reading:

Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything
by Theodore Gray (Author), Nick Mann (Photographer)

Reactions: An Illustrated Exploration of Elements, Molecules, and Change in the Universe
by Theodore Gray (Author)

Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine
by Candace B. Pert (Author)

Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe
by Theodore Gray (Author), Nick Mann (Photographer)

We Are All Made of Molecules
by Susin Nielsen (Author)

DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences
by Rick Strassman (Author)

Explore Atoms and Molecules!: With 25 Great Projects (Explore Your World)
by Janet Slingerland (Author), Matt Aucoin (Illustrator)

Atoms and Molecules (My Science Library)
by Tracy Maurer (Author)

The Molecules of Life: Physical and Chemical Principles
by John Kuriyan (Author), Boyana Konforti (Author), David Wemmer (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Dying Well
Is there a way to talk about death candidly, without fear ... and even with humor? How can we best prepare for it with those we love? This hour, TED speakers explore the beauty of life ... and death. Guests include lawyer Jason Rosenthal, humorist Emily Levine, banker and travel blogger Michelle Knox, mortician Caitlin Doughty, and entrepreneur Lux Narayan.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#491 Frankenstein LIVES
Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley gave us a legendary monster, shaping science fiction for good. Thanks to her, the name of Frankenstein is now famous world-wide. But who was the real monster here? The creation? Or the scientist that put him together? Tune in to a live show from Dragon Con 2018 in Atlanta, as we breakdown the science of Frankenstein, complete with grave robbing and rivers of maggots. Featuring Tina Saey, Lucas Hernandez, Travor Valle, and Nancy Miorelli. Moderated by our own Bethany Brookshire. Related links: Scientists successfully transplant lab-grown lungs into pigs, by Maria Temming on Science...