Molecule reveals clues to birth of stars

April 18, 2012 at 4:39 PM
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TUCSON, April 18 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say a study of one of the most fundamental molecules in the universe is providing insights into how the very first stars could have formed.

Scientists at the University of Arizona have studied the properties of a compound called H3+, also known as a triatomic hydrogen ion, believed to have been prevalent in the universe following the Big Bang around 13.7 billion years ago.

The researchers have calculated the vibration patterns of H3+, allowing them to predict which wavelengths of light it will emit thus giving them a way to identify its signature in astronomical observations, reported Wednesday

H3+'s vibration and light-emitting qualities may have enabled it to transfer heat away from the universe's first stars as they were in the process of forming, allowing them to coalesce without overheating and flying apart, scientists said.

"There wouldn't be any star formation if there weren't molecules that slowly cool down the forming star by emitting light," researcher Michele Pavanello said. "Astronomers think that the only molecule that could cool down a forming star in that particular time is H3+."

The findings should help in understanding the complicated physics of how stars form, especially the earliest stars in the universe, the researchers said.

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