Chemical Pathway Links Stars, Meteorites
Cowen, Ron, Science News
When Thomas J. Wdowiak and Wei Lee zapped a laboratory mixture of hydrogen gas and naphthalene with 9,400 volts, they were seeking to simulate the chemical processes that occur in dusty regions of interstellar space. But their experiment failed to produce any of the hydrocarbon compounds they had hoped for. To add isult to injury, the high-voltage simulation left a yellow-brown residue on their glass discharge tube.
To choose the right solvent for removing the residue, the researchers identified the unwanted material by taking its infrared spectrum. To Wdowiak's surprise, the pattern of ight absorption looked strangely familiar. Searching through recently published data, he and Lee discovered that the spectrum closely resembles that of organic material extracted from the Murchison meteorite, which fell to Earth in 1969.
"This is the best match between the spectrum of a particular meteorite and that a sample synthesized in the laboratory that I've ever seen," notes Louis J. Allamandola, an infared astrophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain view, Calif.
Wdowiak and Lee, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, describe their serendipitous study in the Nov. 1 ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL LETTERS. They say their work suggests a chemical pathway between meteorites and stars. …