IUPAC ’09: Mapping methanol in space

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Who’d have thunk it – a chemistry conference full of space news. It’s not that weird really, when you consider that the search for life = search for molecules.

Lars Kristensen from Leiden University in the Netherlands today showed us his maps of methanol in space. He is making these maps so he can see how methanol is distributed in the material that young stars are made from. Methanol is used as a tracer for early star formation and forms on the surface of interstellar ice-covered dust grains. He’ll also soon be able to compare his methanol maps with results of water abundance from Herschel, which set off recently to check out the most distant objects in the universe.

Methanol forms as ice on dust grains. According to Kristensen, the major way that the methanol escapes from the surface of these grains is not by heating thermally, but by a non-thermal mechanism, be that activation by UV light, or other methods.

The abundance of methanol in the areas that Kristensen looked at, using the Harp B instrument on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, was constant throughout those areas, he says.

Check below the fold for one of his maps.

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