Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Noble gas molecule discovered in space

Date:
December 12, 2013
Source:
Cardiff University
Summary:
A molecule containing a noble gas has been discovered in space. The molecule, argon hydride, was seen in the Crab Nebula, the remains of a star that exploded 1,000 years ago.

In blue, visible light from the Crab Nebula seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. This comes from emissions of gases in the nebula, which are energised by the neutron star at the centre. In red, far infrared light seen by the Herschel Space Observatory. This comes mainly from cold dust and gas.
Credit: NASA, ESA, Alison Loll & Jeff Hester (University of Arizona)

A molecule containing a noble gas has been discovered in space by a team including astronomers from Cardiff University.

The find was made using a Cardiff-led instrument aboard Europe's Herschel Space Observatory. The molecule, argon hydride, was seen in the Crab Nebula, the remains of a star that exploded 1,000 years ago. Before the discovery, molecules of this kind have only been studied in laboratories on Earth.

The noble gases, which include helium, argon, radon and krypton, usually do not react easily with other chemical elements, and are often found on their own. In the right circumstances, however, they can form molecules with other elements. Such chemical compounds have only ever been studied in laboratories on Earth, leading astronomers to assume the right conditions simply do not occur in space.

"The Crab Nebula was only formed 1000 years ago when a massive star exploded," said Dr Haley Gomez of Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy. "Not only is it very young in astronomical terms, but also relatively close, at just 6,500 light years away, providing an excellent way to study what happens in these stellar explosions. Last year, we used the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory to study the intricate network of gas filaments to show how exploding stars are creating huge amounts of space dust."

Further measurements of the Crab Nebula were made using Herschel's SPIRE instrument. Its development and operation was led by Professor Matt Griffin, from the School of Physics and Astronomy. As molecules spin in space, they emit light of very specific wavelengths, or colours, called "emission lines." The precise wavelength is dictated by the composition and structure of the molecule. Studying the emission lines observed by the SPIRE instrument allows astronomers to study the chemistry of outer space.

The team, led by Professor Mike Barlow from University College London, did not set out to make the discovery, but stumbled upon it almost by accident. "We were really concentrating on studying the dust in the filaments with SPIRE, and out pops these two bright emission lines exactly where we see the dust shining," says Dr Gomez. "The team had a hard time figuring out what these lines were from, as no-one had seen them before."

Professor Barlow said, "At first, the discovery of argon seemed bizarre. With hot gas still expanding at high speeds after the explosion, a supernova remnant is a harsh, hot and hostile environment, and one of the places where we least expected to find a noble-gas based molecule."

It now seems the Crab Nebula provides exactly the right conditions to form such molecules. The argon was produced in the initial stellar explosion, and then ionised, or energised, with electrons stripped from the atoms in resulting intense radiation as shockwaves. These shockwaves led to the formation of the network of cool filaments containing cold molecular hydrogen, made of two hydrogen atoms. The ionised argon then mixed with the cool gas to provide perfect conditions for noble gas compounds to form.

The measurements allowed the team to gauge other properties in argon molecules. "Finding this kind of molecule allowed us to evaluate the type (or isotope) of argon we discovered in the Crab Nebula," said Dr Gomez. "We now know that it is different from argon we see in rocks on the Earth. Future measurements will allow us to probe what exactly took place in the explosion 1000 years ago."

"What a great detective story," added Prof Matt Griffin, from Cardiff University, and lead scientist of the team behind the SPIRE instrument. "Here we see the excellent performance of the Herschel-SPIRE spectrometer, the expertise of the instrument team in producing the highest quality data, and the tenacity and vision of the scientists analysing it, all coming together to make an intriguing new discovery."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cardiff University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. J. Barlow, B. M. Swinyard, P. J. Owen, J. Cernicharo, H. L. Gomez, R. J. Ivison, O. Krause, T. L. Lim, M. Matsuura, S. Miller, G. Olofsson, E. T. Polehampton. Detection of a Noble Gas Molecular Ion, 36ArH , in the Crab Nebula. Science, 2013; 342 (6164): 1343 DOI: 10.1126/science.1243582

Cite This Page:

Cardiff University. "Noble gas molecule discovered in space." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212142157.htm>.
Cardiff University. (2013, December 12). Noble gas molecule discovered in space. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212142157.htm
Cardiff University. "Noble gas molecule discovered in space." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212142157.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) New research says the urea from urine could be recycled for fuel. Urea is filtered out of wastewater when making drinking water. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Approves Mon. Space Station Supply Launch

NASA Approves Mon. Space Station Supply Launch

AP (Apr. 13, 2014) NASA decided Sunday to stick with the planned launch of the SpaceX cargo ship, despite a critical computer outage at the space station.Liftoff is scheduled for 4:58 p.m. Monday from Cape Canaveral. (April 13) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Blood Moon' Attracts Stargazers, Conspiracy Theories

'Blood Moon' Attracts Stargazers, Conspiracy Theories

Newsy (Apr. 13, 2014) Tuesday's total lunar eclipse will bring out both stargazers and conspiracy theorists alike as the blood red moon fills up the early morning sky. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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