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Some molecules seen in space aren’t found on Earth, even though they’re made of the same atoms. The reason for that is the environment: temperature, pressure, and other physical conditions are very different in interstellar space than they are on Earth. The McCarthy Group, led by Dr. Michael C. McCarthy at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, studies the types of molecules found in interstellar clouds, to understand their physical and chemical properties. These clouds are nurseries for new stars and planets; knowing their chemistry and evolution is essential for studying star and planet formation.

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Light on Interstellar Molecules

Researchers in the McCarthy Group study the way molecules absorb and emit radio light under conditions resembling those in interstellar space. These molecules include some found on Earth, but also some that have only been seen in space. Work by the group has identified a number of previously-unknown molecules in interstellar clouds using radio telescopes.