Search for interstellar oil

(ORDO NEWS) — Between the stars is a huge amount of interstellar gas and dust, which are scattered in a thin layer throughout our galaxy. The dust may contain carbon compounds.

In this case, it is called carbonaceous interstellar dust. It is an important reservoir for organic material in space. The constant circulation of matter between stars and gas in the interstellar medium in our galaxy leads to the delivery of organic molecules to the newly formed planetary systems.

A special subclass of organic molecules called prebiotic molecules is believed to have played an important role in shaping life on Earth.

Such prebiotic molecules are likely preserved in the carbonaceous interstellar dust that collects in planetesimals during the early stages of planet formation.

The chemical composition in such environments can determine the readiness of the planet to form life on it. Therefore, it is important to understand the life cycle of carbonaceous interstellar dust.

Hydrocarbon molecules, a subgroup of organic molecules, can help with this. Aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons – molecules containing chains and/or rings of carbon atoms – make up an important part of the crude oil on Earth, which was formed under the earth’s crust from the remains of living organisms.

Aliphatic hydrocarbons present in some oil molecules are also essential for living organisms.

Previously, laboratory analogues of carbonaceous interstellar dust have been created, simulating the conditions of the interstellar environment in the laboratory of the University of New South Wales in Australia.

The absorption coefficient of aliphatic hydrocarbons in these interstellar dust analogs was then measured and these data were combined with observations from the UKIRT telescope in Hawaii. It has been established that a large amount of aliphatic hydrocarbons is trapped in the dust of interstellar space.

By applying a new observation method to map the amount of aliphatic hydrocarbon through dusty lines of sight to the center of our galaxy, and then using this method in another field in the galactic disk, it was found that at least 20% of cosmic carbon is hidden in the oily component of interstellar dust. This makes it an important reservoir for organic material in the galactic disk.

This method can be extended with the James Webb Space Telescope in space, where characteristics can be measured much better than from the ground, and also extended to include icy and silicate characteristics in dust in addition to aliphatic hydrocarbons.

It is possible to trace the circulation of organic material in interstellar space now that it is possible to observe objects ranging from planet-forming disks to distant galaxies.


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