Noble gas molecules detected in space

Composite image of the Crab nebula © Herschel: ESA, SPIRE and PACS, MESS GTKP Supernova Remnant team; Hubble: NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (ASU)

Molecules containing a noble gas have been detected in space for the first time by astronomers in the UK. Mike Barlow and colleagues at University College London found evidence of argon hydride ions in infrared spectra from the crab nebula, the remnants of a star that exploded in 1054AD.

The measurements were taken by the SPIRE spectrometer on board the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory. Far-infrared radiation from several regions in the nebula, including the neutron star at its centre, showed strong peaks at 618GHz and 1235GHz, corresponding to argon hydride ions containing argon-36. By contrast, the dominant argon isotope on Earth is argon-40, which is formed by the radioactive decay of potassium. The team’s observations back up calculations supporting the theory that the argon-36 isotope originates from massive supernova explosions in space.


M J Barlow et al, Science, 2013, 342, 1343 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1243582)

Related Content

Milky Way supernovae may help explain fluorine's origin

21 September 2015 Research

news image

Observations counter claims that fluorine production takes place solely in young, evolving stars

Perovskite posits answer to xenon riddle

11 October 2012 Research

news image

The surprising noble gas ratio in the Earth's atmosphere could be explain by the solubility of these gases in magma during th...

Most Commented

Environmentally-friendly quantum dots make their mark

5 October 2015 Research

news image

Indium phosphide nanoparticles offer non-toxic alternative to cadium for richer, more colourful display screens

Chemistry’s contribution

30 September 2015 Editorial

news image

News leader: What have the chemists ever done for us?