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Quantum mechanics contributes to the formation of complex substances in space
The molecules floating in a dark cold vacuum of interstellar space can use quantum mechanics to react and create more complex chemicals. So says one recent study. The reactions are explained by the work of ingenious properties of quantum physics (which we know surprisingly little ), which may well be the key to the creation of complex organic molecules. Including – and vital.
Astronomers have long known that the stars are the “factories” for the production of chemical elements, but only recently have scientists discovered the complex organic molecules that circulate in the cloud of gas and dust in space. The formation of these chemical compounds comprising alcohols, sugars and even the resin component, it is difficult to explain, since the molecules in space is very rarely encountered.
In the past, astronomers have discovered a molecule methoxy, or CH3O, in a cloud of gas. It is formed when a hydroxyl group (OH) is reacted with methanol (CH3OH). However, the reaction requires more energy than can be obtained in the space where the temperature range just above absolute zero.
Not particularly interested in this mysterious response, Duane Hurd and his team at the University of Leeds in England examined the reactivity of hydroxyl with other molecules, including methanol. During the researchers placed two reactants together in a cryogenic vessel. To their surprise, the reaction occurred in about 50 times faster at a temperature of -210 degrees Celsius, than at room temperature, although chilled molecules require much less energy to operate.
Hurd’s team sees its opening to the phenomenon of quantum tunneling. Typically, a chemical reaction takes place only if the reacting molecules have enough energy to overcome the threshold called the energy barrier, figuratively represented as a hill. A peculiar consequence of quantum mechanics is that sometimes the molecules can “climb” on the hill, and without the necessary energy.
“The particle can go ahead through the foothills of the mountains, like a mountain and not” – said Eric Herbst, astrohimik from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Heard and colleagues found that the odds of quantum tunneling grow at low temperatures, as the slow molecules of hydroxyl and methanol are more likely to stay together than to push off in a collision. Such a strange link provides more opportunities for tunneling through the energy barrier, thus speeding up the reaction. According to Hurd, one of the 10-hydroxyl methanol collisions in space produces methoxy without quantum tunneling chance drops to 1 in 10 million.
Other interstellar molecules may owe their existence to quantum mechanics . This is not a unique case. There are other reactions.
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Tags: Vacuum , Life , Quantum mechanics , molecules
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