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. 1997 Jun;27(1-3):53-78.

Detection of Organic Matter in Interstellar Grains

Collaborators, Affiliations
  • PMID: 9150567

Detection of Organic Matter in Interstellar Grains

Y J Pendleton. Orig Life Evol Biosph. .


Star formation and the subsequent evolution of planetary systems occurs in dense molecular clouds, which are comprised, in part, of interstellar dust grains gathered from the diffuse interstellar medium (DISM). Radio observations of the interstellar medium reveal the presence of organic molecules in the gas phase and infrared observational studies provide details concerning the solid-state features in dust grains. In particular, a series of absorption bands have been observed near 3.4 microns (approximately 2940 cm-1) towards bright infrared objects which are seen through large column densities of interstellar dust. Comparisons of organic residues, produced under a variety of laboratory conditions, to the diffuse interstellar medium observations have shown that aliphatic hydrocarbon grains are responsible for the spectral absorption features observed near 3.4 microns (approximately 2940 cm-1). These hydrocarbons appear to carry the -CH2- and -CH3 functional groups in the abundance ratio CH2/CH3 approximately 2.5, and the amount of carbon tied up in this component is greater than 4% of the cosmic carbon available. On a galactic scale, the strength of the 3.4 microns band does not scale linearly with visual extinction, but instead increases more rapidly for objects near the Galactic Center. A similar trend is noted in the strength of the Si-O absorption band near 9.7 microns. The similar behavior of the C-H and Si-O stretching bands suggests that these two components may be coupled, perhaps in the form of grains with silicate cores and refractory organic mantles. The ubiquity of the hydrocarbon features seen in the near infrared near 3.4 microns throughout out Galaxy and in other galaxies demonstrates the widespread availability of such material for incorporation into the many newly forming planetary systems. The similarity of the 3.4 microns features in any organic material with aliphatic hydrocarbons underscores the need for complete astronomical observational coverage in the 2-30 microns region, of lines of sight which sample dust in both dense and diffuse interstellar clouds, in order to uniquely specify the composition of interstellar organics. This paper reviews the information available from ground-based observations, although currently the Infrared Satellite Observatory is adding to our body of knowledge on this subject by providing more extensive wavelength coverage. The Murchison carbonaceous meteorite has also been used as an analog to the interstellar observations and has revealed a striking similarity between the light hydrocarbons in the meteorite and the ISM; therefore this review includes comparisons with the meteoritic analog as well as with relevant laboratory residues. Fundamental to the evolution of the biogenic molecules, to the process of planetary system formation, and perhaps to the origin of life, is the connection between the organic material found in the interstellar medium and that incorporated in the most primitive solar system bodies.

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