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Interstellar chemistry makes use of quantum shortcut

Reactions in the frigid cold of space are sped by a physical quirk, researchers propose

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9:43am, July 8, 2013

Molecules floating in the dark, cold vacuum of interstellar space can exploit quantum mechanics to react and produce more complex chemicals, a new study suggests. Researchers explain the reactions using a quirky property of quantum physics, which may be a key cog in the cosmic assembly line that churns out intricate organic molecules, including those necessary for life.

Astronomers have long known that stars manufacture chemical elements, but it’s only recently that researchers have discovered complex organic molecules floating around in clouds of gas and dust in space (SN 1/30/10, p. 26). The formation of these chemicals, which include alcohols, sugars and even an ingredient found in tar, is hard to explain because molecules in space should very rarely collide.

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