JUN 24, 2022 11:50 AM PDT

Dying Stars Could Enrich the Interstellar Medium with Carbon Nanotubes

In a paper recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Physical Chemistry A, researchers at the University of Arizona suggest that carbon nanotubes could be created in the envelopes of gas and dust that surround dying stars.

Caption: This is an image of the Spirograph Nebula, a dying star located ~2,000 light-years from Earth. University of Arizona researchers believe that complex carbon nanotubes are formed in the star’s envelope of dust and gas. Credit: NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Carbon nanotubes are cylindrical molecules that are composed of sheets of single-layer carbon atoms (or graphene) that are rolled up. They can have diameters of 1-100 nanometers, and can reach lengths of several micrometers. Complex carbon molecules were discovered in the interstellar medium in the 1980’s, but until now scientists did not understand how such molecules could form in space.

The team of scientists at the University of Arizona designed an experiment to recreate conditions similar to those found around dying stars. To recreate this planetary nebula environment, the team obtained samples of silicon carbide, a molecule that is abundant in dust grains of planetary nebulae. The team then heated the samples to temperatures that would exist around dying stars – or 1,050 degrees Celsius. As the samples came up to temperature, small hemispherical structures about the size of 1 nanometer were observed to form on the surface of the dust grains. Within a few minutes, these structures began to grow into rod-like structures, which contained several layers of graphene with curvature and dimensions that would indicate a tubular form. The resulting nanotubes were about 3-4 nanometers in length and width; the largest specimen observed was composed of more than 4 layers of graphitic carbon. The tubes eventually wiggled off the surface of the dust grains, simulating that they would be released into space.

Thus, the team was able to show that when exposed to conditions found around dying stars, silicon carbide could be transformed into carbon nanotubes. These results support the idea that dying stars produce complex molecules (such as carbon nanotubes and other complex carbon molecules), enriching the interstellar medium. These results have important implications for astrobiology, providing a mechanism for complex and carbon-rich molecules to be produced, transported to planetary systems, providing the building blocks for life.

Source: University of Arizona

 

About the Author
PhD in Astrophysics
I'm a stellar astrophysicist by training with a passion for formal and informal education and diversity and inclusion in STEM. I love to take a humanistic approach to my work and firmly believe that all of humanity is united under one sky.
You May Also Like
MAY 04, 2022
Space & Astronomy
How Star Wars and Star Trek Shaped Technology
MAY 04, 2022
How Star Wars and Star Trek Shaped Technology
The endless debate continues to rage on about which is better: Star Trek or Star Wars? But what we can all (hopefully) a ...
MAY 19, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Io: The Volcano World
MAY 19, 2022
Io: The Volcano World
Io, the first Galilean moon of Jupiter—The Volcano World, with its molten silicate lava lakes and hundreds of acti ...
MAY 19, 2022
Space & Astronomy
NASA Rocket to Discover the Key to Life on Earth
MAY 19, 2022
NASA Rocket to Discover the Key to Life on Earth
A rocket carrying NASA’s Endurance Mission launched successfully on May 10, 2022 from Andøya Space’s ...
JUN 17, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
A Wandering Star Twisted the Magnetic Field in a Stellar Nursery
JUN 17, 2022
A Wandering Star Twisted the Magnetic Field in a Stellar Nursery
Stellar Nurseries are fascinating places to look at to see the signatures of stars and sometimes the process of planet f ...
AUG 06, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
JWST Captures the Cartwheel Galaxy in Detail
AUG 06, 2022
JWST Captures the Cartwheel Galaxy in Detail
On December 25, 2021, the most expensive telescope, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) ever built was launched ...
AUG 16, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Lunar IceCube Will Hitch a Ride on Artemis 1
AUG 16, 2022
Lunar IceCube Will Hitch a Ride on Artemis 1
NASA’s Lunar IceCube is one of several CubeSats hitching a ride to the Moon on Artemis 1. CubeSats are efficient a ...
Loading Comments...