H3+: the Molecule that Made the Universe

In a study that pushed quantum mechanical theory and research capabilities to the limit, UA researchers have found a way to see the molecule that likely made the universe – or at least the hot and fiery bits of it.

The molecule known as H3+ is believed to have had a vital role in cooling down the first stars of the universe, and may still play an important part in the formation of current stars. Above, new stars burst into being in the star-forming nebula Messier 78, imaged by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Lurking in the vast, chilly regions between stars, the unassuming molecule known as a triatomic hydrogen ion, or H3+, may hold secrets of the formation of the first stars after the Big Bang.

At the University of Arizona, then doctoral candidate Michele Pavanello spent months doing painstaking calculations to find a way to spot H3+ and unveil its pivotal role in astronomy and spectroscopy, supervised by Ludwik Adamowicz, a professor in the UA’s department of  hemistry and biochemistry. The groundbreaking results have been published in a recent edition of Physical Review Letters.

“Most of the universe consists of hydrogen in various forms,” said Adamowicz, “but the H3+ ion is the most prevalent molecular ion in interstellar space. It’s also one of the most important molecules in existence.”

Believed to be critical to the formation of stars in the early days of the universe, H3+ also is the precursor to many types of chemical reactions, said Adamowicz, including those leading to compounds such as water or carbon, which are essential for life…..
Read more: uanews.org

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