Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Precursors of life-enabling organic molecules in Orion Nebula unveiled by Herschel Space Observatory

Date:
March 5, 2010
Source:
University of Cologne - Universitaet zu Koeln
Summary:
ESA's Herschel Space Observatory has revealed the chemical fingerprints of potential life-enabling organic molecules in the Orion Nebula, a nearby stellar nursery in our Milky Way galaxy.

The HIFI spectrum of the Orion Nebula, superimposed on a Spitzer image of Orion. A characteristic feature is the spectral richness: among the organic molecules identified in this spectrum are water, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methanol, dimethyl ether, hydrogen cyanide, sulphur oxide, sulphur dioxide and their isotope analogues. It is expected that new molecules will also be identified. This spectrum is the first glimpse at the spectral richness of regions of star and planet formation. It harbours the promise of a deep understanding of the chemistry of space once the complete spectral surveys are available.
Credit: ESA, HEXOS and the HIFI consortium

ESA's Herschel Space Observatory has revealed the chemical fingerprints of potential life-enabling organic molecules in the Orion Nebula, a nearby stellar nursery in our Milky Way galaxy. This detailed spectrum -- obtained with the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI), one of Herschel's three innovative instruments -- demonstrates the gold mine of information that Herschel-HIFI will provide on how organic molecules form in space.

Several German Institutes contributed essential parts to the HIFI instrument: the Universität zu Kölkn and the Max-Planck-Institute für Radioastronmie, Bonn, und für Sonnensystemforschung, Lindau.

Striking features in the HIFI spectrum include a rich, dense pattern of "spikes," each representing the emission of light from a specific molecule in the Orion Nebula. This nebula is known to be one of the most prolific chemical factories in space, although the full extent of its chemistry and the pathways for molecule formation are not well understood. By sifting through the pattern of spikes in this spectrum, astronomers have identified a few common molecules that appear everywhere in the spectrum. The identification of the many other emission lines is currently ongoing.

By clearly identifying the lines associated with the more common molecules, astronomers can then begin to tease out the signature of particularly interesting molecules that are the direct precursors to life-enabling molecules. A characteristic feature of the Orion spectrum is the spectral richness: among the molecules that can be identified in this spectrum are water, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methanol, dimethyl ether, hydrogen cyanide, sulphur oxide, sulphur dioxide and their isotope analogues. It is expected that new organic molecules will also be identified.

"This HIFI spectrum, and the many more to come, will provide a virtual treasure trove of information regarding the overall chemical inventory and on how organics form in a region of active star formation. It harbours the promise of a deep understanding of the chemistry of space once we have the full spectral surveys available," said Edwin Bergin of the University of Michigan, principal investigator of the HEXOS Key Programme on Herschel.

Unprecedented high resolution

HIFI was designed to provide extremely high-resolution spectra and to open new wavelength ranges for investigation, which are inaccessible to ground-based telescopes. "It is astonishing to see how well HIFI works," said Frank Helmich, HIFI principal investigator of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research. "We obtained this spectrum in a few hours and it already beats any other spectrum, at any other wavelength, ever taken of Orion. Organics are everywhere in this spectrum, even at the lowest levels, which hints at the fidelity of HIFI. The development of HIFI took eight years but it was really worth waiting for."

Identification of the many spectral features visible in the Orion spectrum with transitions of particular molecular species requires sophisticated tools such as the Colgone Database of Molecular Spectroscopy (CDMS), which collect the laboratory data of several hundred moelcular species and precise line predictions. "The high spectral resolution of HIFI shows the breath-taking rechness of molecular species, which are present, despite of the hostile environment, in the stellar nurseries and sites for planet formation," says Jürgen Stutzki, HIFI-co-principle investigator at the Universität zu Köln.

ESA project Herschel

Herschel is one of ESAs cornerstone missions, a space observatory with science instruments provided by European-led Principal Investigator consortia, with important contributions from NASA on the US side. One of the three instruments on board Herschel is HIFI, the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared, an ultra-sensitive, high resolution spectrometer designed and built by a nationally-funded consortium led by SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

The consortium includes partners from 25 institutes and 13 different nations. German institutes have provided key components for HIFI: the local oscillator, built at the MPI für Radioastronomie, Bonn, superconducting detectors with sensitivity close to the fundamental quantum limit, built at the Universität zu Köln. HIFI carries the classical radio frequency technique of heterodyne-mixing into a for orders of magnitude higher fequency regime, namely the Far-Infrared spectral range. A further essential component, the Acousto Optical Spectrometer (AOS), was developed in collaboration between the Universität zu Köln and the Max Planck Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Lindau.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cologne - Universitaet zu Koeln. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Cologne - Universitaet zu Koeln. "Precursors of life-enabling organic molecules in Orion Nebula unveiled by Herschel Space Observatory." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304102320.htm>.
University of Cologne - Universitaet zu Koeln. (2010, March 5). Precursors of life-enabling organic molecules in Orion Nebula unveiled by Herschel Space Observatory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304102320.htm
University of Cologne - Universitaet zu Koeln. "Precursors of life-enabling organic molecules in Orion Nebula unveiled by Herschel Space Observatory." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304102320.htm (accessed October 2, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Japan Looks To Faster Future As Bullet Train Turns 50

Japan Looks To Faster Future As Bullet Train Turns 50

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) — Japan's bullet train turns 50 Wednesday. Here's a look at how it's changed over half a century — and the changes it's inspired globally. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
US Police Put Body Cameras to the Test

US Police Put Body Cameras to the Test

AFP (Oct. 1, 2014) — Police body cameras are gradually being rolled out across the US, with interest surging after the fatal police shooting in August of an unarmed black teenager. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) — A ceremony marking 50 years since Japan launched its Shinkansen bullet train was held on Wednesday in Tokyo. The latest model can travel from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of 319 miles, in two hours and 25 minutes. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robotic Hair Restoration

Robotic Hair Restoration

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) — A new robotic procedure is changing the way we transplant hair. The ARTAS robot leaves no linear scarring and provides more natural results. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins