Saturday, June 30, 2018

Greasy Space

Apparently even worse than Vegemite:
It looks cold, dark and empty, but astronomers have revealed that interstellar space is permeated with a fine mist of grease-like molecules.

The study provides the most precise estimate yet of the amount of “space grease” in the Milky Way, by recreating the carbon-based compounds in the laboratory. The Australian-Turkish team discovered more than expected: 10 billion trillion trillion tonnes of gloop, or enough for 40 trillion trillion trillion packs of butter.

...To tackle the question, Schmidt and colleagues recreated in the laboratory the process by which greasy carbon forms in the outflows of carbon stars. The material was collected and analysed using spectroscopy to work out how strongly it absorbed light of certain wavelengths.

“This allowed us to figure out how much greasy carbon is in the line of sight of various stars,” said Schmidt.

They found that there are about 100 greasy carbon atoms for every million hydrogen atoms, accounting for between a quarter and a half of the available carbon in the Milky Way.

“This space grease is not the kind of thing you’d want to spread on a slice of toast,” said Schmidt. “It’s dirty, likely toxic and only forms in the environment of interstellar space – and our laboratory.”

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