The Interstellar Carbon Budget and the Role of Carbon in Dust and Large Molecules

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Science  01 Dec 1995:
Vol. 270, Issue 5241, pp. 1455-1460
DOI: 10.1126/science.270.5241.1455


Published data on stellar composition show that carbon in the sun is substantially more abundant than in other stars. A carbon abundance of 225 carbon atoms per 106 hydrogen atoms is representative of galactic stars, whereas published values for the sun range from 350 to 470 carbon atoms per 106 hydrogen atoms. Other elements are also present in enhanced quantities in the solar system, consistent with suggestions that a supernova event was closely associated with the formation of the solar system. The overabundance of carbon in the solar system has many important implications, including new constraints on nucleosynthesis models for supernovae and substantial modification of the so-called “cosmic” composition normally adopted in discussions of galactic and interstellar abundances. A reduction in the galactic carbon budget, as suggested by the stellar composition data, strongly constrains the quantity of carbon that is available for the formation of interstellar dust, and some dust models now appear implausible because they require more carbon than is available.