The diffuse interstellar bands that astronomers have been watching for years may finally have an answer. Researchers looked at the countless molecules that drift through interstellar space, and have theorized that they are similar to silicon-capped hydrocarbons. Just don’t set the answer in stone yet. It’s a theory, but scientists still aren’t sure.

Lead author on the study, Michael McCarthy, released a statement on the findings. “There have been a number of explanations over the years, and they cover the gamut.” Not exactly confident in their findings, but the similarities do exists with the molecules and silicon-capped hydrocarbons such as SiC3H, SiC4H and SiC5H.

One reason behind the caution is that scientists have not been able to replicate the effect here on Earth. Years have been spent on analyzing the bands, but the absorption spectra has so far failed in laboratory tests. “Not a single one has been definitively assigned to a specific molecule”

This study does get researchers one step closer to solving an interstellar mystery. While they developed the silicon-capped hydrocarbons in a lab, they then used theoretical calculations to conclude that longer chains in the same family may be behind the diffuse interstellar bands.

Why is the answer so important? The American Institute of Physics reports that the molecules account for a sizable quantity of all the carbon, hydrogen and silicon in the universe. If we are all made of ‘star stuff’, it would be great to know exactly what that ‘stuff’ is. And that’s the purpose of the study.

If you want to read the study, it can be found in the Journal of Chemical Physics.


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