By David E. Newton
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Additional resources for Chemistry of Space (New Chemistry)
Indd 41 7/30/07 11:14:40 AM 42 CHEMISTRY OF SPACE electron in an atom returns to its original ground state, releasing energy in the process. The energy required to bring about vibrational changes is in the temperature range of about 102 to 104 K. Such changes can occur, therefore, only in warmer parts of the ISM. Molecules also tumble end-over-end around a central axis, producing a rotational motion. Again, the input of energy to a molecule may cause it to increase or decrease its rotational motion.
Here is the way that line is produced: Both the proton and the electron that make up a hydrogen atom are spinning on their axes, like a pair of tops. Either may spin in one direction (clockwise) or the opposite direction (counterclockwise). If both particles are spinning in the same direction, the hydrogen atom has some total amount of energy, call it E; but if the two particles are spinning in opposite directions, the atom has somewhat less energy, call it E Ϫ e. Electrons in hydrogen atoms naturally intraconvert (switch back and forth) from a condition of like spin with their protons to opposite spin on a regular and predictable basis, about once every 11 million years.
Instead, astronomers use a different molecule—carbon monoxide—to find GMCs. Carbon monoxide does emit radiation in the millimeter range of the electromagnetic spectrum because of its rotational motions. Astronomers are able to detect this radiation, and they use it to locate the presence of GMCs. Two other structures can be identified in the ISM. One of these is called coronal gas, consisting of material ejected from stars, novae, supernovae, and other explosive objects in the universe. The temperature of coronal gas is very high, about 106 K, and it is composed of a complex mixture of elements contained within or produced by the star or nova.