Molecules from clouds to disks and planets: building on Dalgarno's legacy

March 29, 2018
Phillips Auditorium
Leiden Observatory

The discovery of thousands of planets around stars other than our Sun has revived age-old questions on how these exo-planets form and which chemical ingredients are available to build them. Chemistry starts in the cold and tenuous clouds between the stars. In spite of the extremely low temperatures and densities, these clouds contain a surprisingly rich and interesting chemistry, as evidenced by the detection of nearly 200 different molecules. Examples of recent developments in astrochemistry will be presented, with special emphasis on topics that Alex Dalgarno has opened up (i.e., most of astrochemistry!).

New facilities such as ALMA and soon JWST will allow us to zoom in on dense cloud cores and planetary system construction sites with unprecedented sharpness and sensitivity. Spectral scans of young disks contain tens of thousands of rotational lines, revealing water and a surprisingly rich variety of organic materials, including simple sugars and high abundances of deuterated species. How are these prebiotic molecules formed and can they end up on new planets? A comparison with recent results from the Rosetta mission to comet 67 P/C-G in our own Solar System provides part of the clue. These recent results leave no doubt on the answer to the famous question asked by Dalgarno in 1986 `Is astrochemistry useful?'.

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