PerspectiveAstronomy

Complex Protostellar Chemistry

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Science  27 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6080, pp. 424-425
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219709

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Summary

Two decades ago, our understanding of the chemistry in protostars was simple—matter either fell into the central star or was trapped in planetary-scale objects. Some minor chemical changes might occur as the dust and gas fell inward, but such effects were overwhelmed by the much largerscale processes that occurred even in bodies as small as asteroids. The chemistry that did occur in the nebula was relatively easy to model because the fall from the cold molecular cloud into the growing star was a one-way trip down a well-known temperature-pressure gradient; the only free variable was time. However, just over 10 years ago it was suggested that some material could be processed in the inner nebula, flow outward, and become incorporated into comets (1, 2). This outward flow was confirmed when the Stardust mission returned crystalline mineral fragments (3) from Comet Wild 2 that must have been processed close to the Sun before they were incorporated into the comet. On page 452 of this issue, Ciesla and Sandford (4) demonstrate that even the outermost regions of the solar nebula can be a chemically active environment. Their finding could have consequences for the rest of the nebula.