Astrochemistry is a relatively new area, which is halfway between astronomy, physics and chemistry, having as its main focus the study of the formation, destruction and abundance of molecules in various environments such as molecular clouds, regions of stellar birth. , planetary nebulae, protoplanetary disks, planetary atmospheres, comets, etc.
One of the important topics addressed by astrochemistry is the study of prebiotic organic chemistry to understand the origin of life on Earth. Depending on the physical-chemical conditions of the environments, the molecules may be in the gaseous phase or may be condensed on the surface of interstellar dust grains, comets, etc.
Astrochemistry can be divided into 3 sub-areas: observational, theoretical and experimental astrochemistry.
- Observational astrochemistry
Molecules can be observed mainly in the length of radio and infrared waves. Many of the characteristics of the most important ionic and molecular neutral species are found in the wavelength of millimeters. Therefore, it is believed that with the ALMA interferometer (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) and the LLAMA (Long Latin American Millimetric Array), with antennas and state-of-the-art equipment, they will achieve high sensitivity and high angular resolution, which will make it possible to identify a large number of molecules and will allow mapping the distribution of prebiotic molecules, for example in protoplanetary disks in which planets are forming or will form.
Gemini telescopes are optimized for observations in infrared wavelengths, therefore, the use of the Gemini will be able to give a great advance in the detection of molecules in the frequencies of the bands of ro-vibrational transitions.
- Theoretical astrochemistry
Taking the observations as a link, models are developed in the attempt to describe different chemical or physico-chemical scenarios, such as, for example, the chemical evolution of a molecular cloud as a function of the initial atomic abundances of time or the main chemical reactions at a certain altitude. within the atmosphere of a planet.
These questions, as well as many others, are studied theoretically within the sub-area of astrochemistry, theoretical astrochemistry.
The main challenge is to incorporate the complexity of chemical reactions that occur on the surface of dust particles and dust grains.
- Experimental astrochemistry
Experimental astrochemistry is a multidisciplinary science that investigates, based on laboratory experiments, questions about the presence, formation and survival of molecules in various environments.
The interaction of ionizing radiation (photons, electrons or ions) with molecules, in both phases, triggers dissociative processes and chemical reactions, the consequence of which is a continuous increase in chemical complexity in these environments.
For example, from the processing of simple molecules such as N2, H2O, CO, NH3, pre-biotic organic molecules are formed such as the amino acid glycine (C2H5NO2) and the base adenine (C5H5N5). In experiments involving the gas phase, for example, the gaseous component of the interstellar medium, the atmosphere of planets, comets and other astrophysical environments containing chemical species in the gas phase are simulated.
In experiments involving the condensed phase, environments that are at low temperatures (10 to 100 K) interstellar / circumstellar dust particles, dust grains in protoplanetary disks, etc. are investigated.
The frozen surfaces of planets, moons, asteroids, comets, aerosols (a set of particles suspended in a gas), in planetary and lunar atmospheres, etc. are also investigated.