You are on page 1of 20

Astrochemistry basics

How we detect elements and molecular compounds in space Begin

Background photograph - NASA - http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/galaxy_collection/pr1999041a/

Whoa!! I don’t understand the term Astrochemistry???

Astrochemistry is the (relatively) new branch of Astronomy that deals with how/where elements and compounds come from that are found in:
• The Milky Way (our very own Galaxy) learn more • Nebulae (clouds of gas within our galaxy) learn more • Other galaxies learn more

• Any other place in the universe INCLUDING our Solar System

Some useful concepts Spectral lines Absorption / Emission lines Radio Telescopes Detection .

and Microwaves (type of Radio Wave).We detect these chemicals in space by at least two methods:  Atomic Spectroscopy – Useful for Visible. and Ultraviolet Light Molecular Spectroscopy – Useful for Radio Waves.  . Infrared.

Atomic Spectroscopy  Atoms of a specific element emit a specific wavelength of light when an electron undergoes a transition between energy levels (Bohr model of the Atom) .

 Diatomic molecule rotation .Molecular Spectroscopy   Molecules of a compound have rotation energy. When they change rotation energy states. they emit a photon at a specific wavelength (λ). Different molecules emit photons of unique wavelengths for that rotation energy state.

Absorption is the process where energy is taken in by an electron to change it‟s energy level to a “non-rest” state.Absorption / Emission lines    Electrons making an energy transition is the key to either emission of light or radio waves. . Emission is the process where energy is given off by the electron as it returns to its “rest” state.

. Result – Specific wavelengths “drop out” of the otherwise continuous spectrum. The gas “robs” (absorbs) photons at specific wavelengths to energize its electrons.Absorption Spectra   Happens when waves of an electromagnetic wave (shown in visible light) passes through a cool gas.

Absorption Spectra Examples:  The absorption of these specific wavelengths of light prove the presence of Hydrogen gas in the outer atmosphere of the star. .

another example…  Psst!.Absorption Spectra Examples: Yup. This is how we identify Spectral types!!! .

Emission lines of specific gasses .Emission Spectra   Happens when photons are created by an energized gas. The gas “creates” (emits) photons at wavelengths corresponding to the energy change of its electrons. Result – Specific wavelengths of light are created where there was no light before.

Prime Focus – radio receiver at the prime focus • B.Tools of the Radio Astronomer   Radio Telescopes – Similar in many ways to Optical telescopes Focus configurations: • A. Cassegrain – secondary convex reflector at prime focus  How do you make a radio telescope (almost) the size of the Earth?? • Ans: VLBA .

(learn more) .Very Long Baseline Array   What is a VLBA?? Answer: a Very Long Baseline Array – A grouping of identical radio telescopes at different places on the earth that act as one large radio telescope  Combining the signals from more than one telescope is called interferometry.

Telescopes of the VLBA  The National Science Foundation's VLBA (learn more) is a system of ten identical radio-telescopes controlled from a common headquarters in New Mexico. The radio signals received by each individual antenna contribute part of the information used to produce images of celestial objects with hundreds of times more detail than Hubble Space Telescope images. . and working together as a single instrument.

Telescopes of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA)  NRAO / AUI / NSF .

West Virginia NRAO / AUI / NSF . and where is it? How Big: > 100 m (> 300 ft.) Where: Green Bank.Radio Telescopes  How big is the world’s largest Radio Telescope.

• The hydrogen gas was found (in abundance) in the “empty” space between stars.Beginnings  In the „50s & ‟60s. • Note: Domestic microwave ovens use a signal of ~ 12 cm wavelength to cook food  This gas was “dark” in optical wavelengths but “bright” in radio wavelengths. Radio telescopes first discovered the “signature” line of Hydrogen at 21 cm wavelength between stars. .

Keeping score  What molecules have been discovered and at which wavelengths? Ans: Well over 100 molecules of compounds have been found in Interstellar space.  Here are just a few of them showing where they were discovered and at the corresponding “signature” frequencies and wavelengths .

29 6.98 Found In: 36202 36169 4388 36488 42519 42944 18017 Orion Sagittarius Sagittarius Taurus Sagittarius (Var.05 6.22 7.Familiar Compounds in Space Name (Popular Name) Suphur Monoxide Methanol Formaldehyde Carbon Oxide Sulfide Silicon Monoxide Formula Wavelength Frequency (Chemical ( λ .28 8. Supergiant) Silicon Tetracarbide Ammonia Taurus Giant 16.65 Molecular Cloud .in cm) (MHz) formula) SO CH3OH H2C18O OCS SiO SiC4 NH3 8.83 8.

http://physics.nist.How can we find Molecules with a Radio Telescope  Check out this website. . • Check the “Name” field at the bottom.pl Hints: • Start the frequency range at about 1200 Hz.000 Hz. It relates many compounds found in the universe and at which frequency they are detected.gov/cgi-bin/micro/table5/start. This will add the familiar chemical formula name to the table which the web site creates for you. You can type in the upper frequency range at about 44.