Writing  Sample   A  Case  for  Solid  Frozen  Hydrogen       A  Case  for  Solid  Frozen  Hydrogen   Link:   http://www

.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/newsblog/124606124.html       The  thin  gas  between  the  stars  contains  hydrogen  in  three  known  forms:  as  an  ionized   plasma   where   it’s   hot,   as   neutral   atomic   hydrogen   (H)   where   it’s   cooler,   and   as   molecular  hydrogen  H2  in  dense  clouds  where  it  can  grow  cold.  But  can  it  ever  chill  far   enough  to  freeze  into  solid  chunks  or  “snow”  particles?  It’s  an  old  idea  that  a  team  in   Australia  has  just  revived.     The   possibility   was   proposed   in   the   late   1960s.   But   it   didn’t   get   far   because   astronomers   thought   that   various   forms   of   cosmic   radiation   would   keep   even   the   darkest,   coldest   cores   of   interstellar   clouds   from   chilling   down   far   enough.   Even   if   hydrogen   did   freeze   in   certain   isolated   pockets,   researchers   believed   that   it   would   soon  sublimate  back  to  gas.       But  an  analysis   released  last  month  by  a  trio  of  scientists  at  the  National  University  of   Australia  in  Canberra  and  at  Manly  Astrophysics  resurrects  the  case  for  solid  frozen   hydrogen.   The   researchers   argue   that   the   high-­‐energy   radiation   in   the   interstellar   medium  might  partially  ionize  molecular  hydrogen  to  produce  H6+,  which  can  freeze   at  higher  temperatures  than  common  H2.     “This  molecule  was  only  recognized  in  laboratory  studies  within  the  last  decade  or  so,   and  nobody  in  the  astronomy  community  knew  about  it,”  said  Mark  Walker,  one  of  the   authors   of   the   paper.   The   authors   further   suggest   that   some   of   the   hydrogen   will   present  itself  as  deuterium,  spawning  a  large  number  of  (HD)3+  ions  in  addition  to  H6+   ions.       The   team   has   not   directly   identified   these   species   in   the   interstellar   medium.   But   they’ve   analyzed   the   spectral   properties   the   two   molecules   ought   to   have,   using   computational   models,   and   they   suggest   a   method   to   search   for   them   as   spectral   features  in  starlight.       Mystery  Bands     When   starlight   is   separated   into   all   its   component   wavelengths,   many   dark   lines   appear   in   the   light’s   infrared,   visible   and   ultraviolet   spectra.   Most   of   these   absorption   lines   arise   from   specific   atoms   absorbing   specific   wavelengths   in   a   star’s   own   atmosphere.   But   a   few   dark   lines   arise   from   material   spread   along   the   long   interstellar  highway  between  the  star  and  Earth.  In  particular,  about  600  interstellar   absorption   lines   form   the   mysterious   diffuse   interstellar   bands   (DIBs),   caused   by   unidentified  molecules  in  the  interstellar  medium.  In  addition  to  these  mystery  lines,  

Writing  Sample   A  Case  for  Solid  Frozen  Hydrogen     the   interstellar   medium   produces   emission   bands   called   the   unidentified   infrared   (UIR)  bands.     Since   the   late   1980s   and   early   1990s,   increasing   circumstantial   evidence   has   suggested   that   large   molecules   such   as   polycyclic   aromatic   hydrocarbons   (PAHs)   produce  the  UIRs.  The  probable  candidates  have  been  analyzed  in  cold,  near-­‐vacuum   laboratory   conditions,   and   various   models   demonstrate   that   these   molecules   indeed   exhibit   vibrational   transitions   at   the   wavelengths   of   UIRs   in   interstellar   spectra.   Astronomers   have   thought   that   if   these   molecules   could   be   responsible   for   UIRs,   they   probably  produce  the  DIBs  as  well.       But  the  work  of  Ching  Yeh  Lin,  Andrew  T.  B.  Gilbert,  and  Walker  argues  that  UIRs  are   probably  produced  not  by  PAHs  but  by  HD3+  and  H6+  in  solid  form.  The  team  provides   computational   models   to   show   that   these   ions   have   vibrational   transitions   at   wavelengths  matching  some  of  the  UIRs.  Future  research  could  demonstrate  evidence   for  the  entire  set  of  UIRs  noted  in  stellar  spectra,  says  Walker.       Benjamin   McCall   (University   of   Illinois),   a   Sky   &   Telescope   contributor   who   studies   the  interstellar  medium,  thinks  the  new  work  could  be  significant  if  the  authors  can   prove  their  speculations  in  further  research.  “If  even  the  major  claim  that  (HD)   3+  in   solid  hydrogen  is  responsible  for  the  UIRs  is  true,  it  will  be  incredibly  revolutionary,”   he  says.     Not  So  Fast     However,   the   research   by   Lin,   Gilbert,   and   Walker   has   also   found   strong   criticism.   Louis   Allamandola   (NASA/Ames   Research   Center),   who   works   on   PAHs,   says,   “This   level  of  computation  should  be  reasonably  reliable  in  the  infrared,  but  it  needs  to  be   taken  with  a  grain  of  salt.”  He  points  out  that  most  of  the  UIRs  originate  in  ultraviolet-­‐ rich   regions   of   the   interstellar   medium   where   the   temperature   might   be   too   hot   for   any  form  of  hydrogen  to  freeze.       He  and  colleague  Scott  Sandford  also  argue  that  the  laboratory  evidence  for  PAHs  as   the   molecules   causing   the   UIRs   is   overwhelming.   They   consider   it   unlikely   that   the   same  emission  bands  have  an  unrelated  source  in  hydrogen  ice  or  H6+  ions.  “I  suppose   H6+   could   potentially   explain   a   DIB   or   two,   but   there   are   hundreds   of   DIBs,   and   it   strikes   me   as   unlikely   that   H6+   would   explain   them   all,   or   even   many   of   them,”   explains  Sandford.  However,  he  and  Allamandola  agree  that  there  is  room  for  debate.     McCall   thinks   the   interstellar   medium   could   contain   both   types   of   molecules.   “This   paper  is  not  a  slam-­‐dunk  for  (HD)3+causing  the  UIRs,"  he  says,  "and  even  if  it  is  true   that  (HD)3+  causes  them,  that  would  not  rule  out  the  presence  of  PAHs.”      

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