Airdate: May 12, 2008
Scientist: Lucy Ziurys
Science Diary: Chemistry - Molecules
With the help of radio telescopes, scientists have identified more than 100 chemical compounds in interstellar space.
Science Diary: Chemistry of Space Molecules in Space
music; ambience: space radio signals
“Over the past say thirty years scientists have begun to realize that interstellar space is not just sort of a diffuse harsh environment full of nothing but a couple of atoms and ions. Space is full of molecules, chemical compounds that we never thought ever existed out there.”
Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Lucy Ziurys is a professor of Astrochemistry at the University of Arizona. Using radio telescopes, she looks deep into space to see what chemical compounds are indeed out there. Radio telescopes detect radio waves, just like the ones used to broadcast this program. Right now we’re listening to the sound of radio wave signals from space. Lucy is finding that the vastness of space isn’t so empty after all, and it may hold clues to the origins of life.
“And in fact there's about a hundred and thirty different chemical compounds that have been identified in interstellar space. And so, an astrochemist wants to find out what's out there, what specific chemical compounds. And how much of them are out there, how they got there in the first place, and does this have implications, for example, for the origin of life? Did some of the chemistry that produced life on planets begin out in interstellar space? Thirty years ago no one thought that anything out in interstellar space contained molecules. They thought that conditions were too harsh. And we're finding that nature is producing all sorts of molecules, chemical compounds. And it could be that what you and I are composed of in terms of sugars, proteins actually were formed out in interstellar space and not here on the planet.”
We’ll hear more about Lucy Ziurys’ research in future programs.
Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.