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Strange chemical, hydrogen fluoride, found common in our galaxy

Scientists have noted the presence of hydrogen fluoride throughout the Milky Way

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Hydrogen fluoride molecules can be found in interstellar gas clouds of all sizes, and not just the largest ones.

NASA/CXC/UMass/D. Wang/AP

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A peculiar chemical compound has been found to be ubiquitous in interstellar gas clouds throughout our Milky Way galaxy and may give scientists a better way to track hydrogen across the universe.

The compound, called hydrogen fluoride, was detected by the European-built Herschel infrared space observatory. It is a mix of the elements hydrogen and fluorine and could serve as a signpost for astronomers trying to track hydrogen caches in the cosmos, researchers said.

"Hydrogen fluoride may be a more robust tracer of hidden molecular hydrogen than any other molecule used at present," said study team member Edwin Bergin of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

IN PICTURES: Views of the Milky Way

This is because hydrogen fluoride molecules can be found in interstellar gas clouds of all sizes, and not just the largest ones. Hydrogen fluoride can sometimes be found on Earth too as a pale yellow gas attached to ash belched by erupting volcanoes, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Hot hydrogen fluoride was first detected in space by ESA's Infrared Space Observatory in 1997.

But the Herschel observatory's latest finding is the first detection of cold hydrogen fluoride and shows that almost all fluorine in clouds of hydrogen molecules is transformed into the hydrogen fluoride molecular compound, researchers said.

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