Everything on Earth, in our Solar System, in our Galaxy, in fact, everything in the entire Universe that you can touch or see, or feel, or smell can be broken down into just 98 naturally-occurring materials that are called 'elements'. Some elements you might know are oxygen, iron, gold and silver. So you'd think that with only 98-naturally-occurring materials that it would be easy to link those materials with nutrition needed by the human body to prevent sickness and maintain good health.
When one or more elements stick together, they form 'molecules'. These make up all the other thousands of materials in the Universe. Water and carbon dioxide are both molecules. But some elements don't like to play with others, and don't stick to other elements to create molecules. 'Noble gases' are a group of elements that particularly dislike sticking to other elements, so they are mostly found on their own, says in laboratories on Earth, leading astronomers to assume the right conditions simply do not occur in space, according to a December 23, 2013 news release, "Cosmic conditions suitable for the noble class."
Having said that, under the right circumstances noble gases can form molecules. These conditions have been created in laboratories many times and many noble gas molecules have been created by scientists. But these rare molecules have never been found out in space, leading scientists to believe that the “right conditions” for these molecules just don't exist in space — until now.
The Crab Nebula, which can be seen in this picture, formed 1000 years ago when a massive star exploded. A new study of this well-known object has uncovered something very surprising — a rare molecule called argon hydride (pronounced 'ahr-gon hide-ride'). This is a molecule formed when the noble gas 'argon' joins with the most common element in the Universe, 'hydrogen'. It seems that the Crab Nebula provides exactly those “right conditions” that we’d almost given up all hope of finding.
There are actually 118 elements known altogether, but only 98 of them occur in nature
All of the other elements are strictly man-made. All known elements have been listed and categorized neatly in the periodic table. A molecule containing a noble gas has been discovered in space by a team including astronomers from Cardiff University, says a December 13, 2013 news release, "Noble gas molecule discovered in space."
The find was made using a Cardiff-led instrument aboard Europe's Herschel Space Observatory. The molecule, argon hydride, was seen in the Crab Nebula, the remains of a star that exploded 1,000 years ago. Before the discovery, molecules of this kind have only been studied in laboratories on Earth.
The noble gases, which include helium, argon, radon and krypton, usually do not react easily with other chemical elements, and are often found on their own
In the right circumstances, however, they can form molecules with other elements. Such chemical compounds have only ever been studied in laboratories on Earth, leading astronomers to assume the right conditions simply do not occur in space.
"The Crab Nebula was only formed 1000 years ago when a massive star exploded", says Dr Haley Gomez of Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy, according to the December 13, 2013 news release, Noble gas molecule discovered in space. "Not only is it very young in astronomical terms, but also relatively close, at just 6,500 light years away, providing an excellent way to study what happens in these stellar explosions. Last year, we used the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory to study the intricate network of gas filaments to show how exploding stars are creating huge amounts of space dust."
Further measurements of the Crab Nebula were made using Herschel's SPIRE instrument
Its development and operation was led by Professor Matt Griffin, from the School of Physics and Astronomy. As molecules spin in space, they emit light of very specific wavelengths, or colours, called "emission lines". The precise wavelength is dictated by the composition and structure of the molecule. Studying the emission lines observed by the SPIRE instrument allows astronomers to study the chemistry of outer space.
The team, led by Professor Mike Barlow from University College London, did not set out to make the discovery, but stumbled upon it almost by accident. "We were really concentrating on studying the dust in the filaments with SPIRE, and out pops these two bright emission lines exactly where we see the dust shining," says Dr Gomez in the news release. "The team had a hard time figuring out what these lines were from, as no-one had seen them before."
The measurements allowed the team to gauge other properties in argon molecules
"Finding this kind of molecule allowed us to evaluate the type (or isotope) of argon we discovered in the Crab Nebula," says Dr Gomez in the news release. "We now know that it is different from argon we see in rocks on the Earth. Future measurements will allow us to probe what exactly took place in the explosion 1000 years ago."
"What a great detective story,"adds Professor Matt Griffin, from Cardiff University, and lead scientist of the team behind the SPIRE instrument, according to the news release. "Here we see the excellent performance of the Herschel-SPIRE spectrometer, the expertise of the instrument team in producing the highest quality data, and the tenacity and vision of the scientists analyzing it, all coming together to make an intriguing new discovery."