Studying Ice to Understand Astrophysical Bodies

COLUMBUS, Ohio, OCTOBER 25, 2019 — Ice has been observed in a variety of different types of astrophysical environments, from the moon’s polar craters to the interstellar medium and the ice crusts of planets on the outer end of our solar system. Understanding the formation and evolution of this ice can provide information about the physical conditions encountered in space and the chemical similarities and differences between planetary and stellar systems. 

At the AVS 66th International Symposium and Exhibition on Oct. 20-25 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Edith Fayolle, an astrochemist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will talk about how scientists are trying to understand properties of ice on astrophysical bodies, such as its formation, composition and sublimation — the process by which ice transitions directly into gas, without being in its liquid phase in between. 

“It informs us about the conditions pertaining to star-forming environments, and it helps understand whether the chemical complexity observed in our solar system is unique or not,” said Fayolle. 

To fill this gap in knowledge, Fayolle and her colleagues reproduce astrophysical conditions to grow ice in a lab and study some of its fundamental parameters. By using various laboratory techniques and energy sources, they simulate the conditions encountered during the formation of stars and planets and study the ice composition and evolution of these systems. 

It is not possible to reproduce every aspect of a space system in a lab, and Fayolle noted these experiments come with several shortcomings. Time, for example, presents a problem. 

“Processes usually take 100,000 years in space,” Fayolle said. “The time scales are very different.” In the lab, an experiment can only run for a couple of hours. 

In her talk, Fayolle will discuss these challenges, present examples of astrochemical experiments relating to icy space environments and talk about how scientists will use results from these experiments in modeling various types of astrochemical bodies. This may help explain some surprising recent astrophysical observations. 

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Presentation: “Molecular Processes on Icy Surfaces in the Interstellar Medium and the Outer Solar System,” Edith Fayolle, R. Hodyss, P. Johnson, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; K. Oberg, Harvard University; J-H. Fillion, M. Bertin, Sorbonne Université, Friday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m., Room A220-221 in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Columbus, Ohio 

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ABOUT AVS 

AVS is an interdisciplinary, professional society with some 4,500 members worldwide. Founded in 1953, AVS hosts local and international meetings, publishes four journals, serves members through awards, training and career services programs and supports networking among academic, industrial, government, and consulting professionals. Its members come from across the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, engineering and business and share a common interest in basic science, technology development and commercialization related to materials, interfaces, and processing. For more information about AVS, visit our website at http://www.avs.org

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