Interstellar Cloud — Interstellar cloud is the generic name given to accumulations of gas and dust in our galaxy. Depending on the density, size and temperature of a given cloud, the hydrogen in it can be neutral (HI clouds) or molecular (molecular clouds).
Analysing the composition of interstellar clouds is achieved by studying electromagnetic radiation that we receive from them. Large radio telescopes scan the intensity in the sky of particular frequencies of electromagnetic radiation which are characteristic of certain molecules’ spectra.
Interstellar clouds are cold and tend to give out EM radiation of large wavelengths. We can produce a map of the abundance of these molecules to produce an understanding of the varying composition of the clouds.
Radio telescopes can also scan over the frequencies from one point in the map, recording the intensities of each type of molecule. Peaks of frequencies mean that an abundance of that molecule or atom is present in the cloud. The height of the peak is proportional to the relative percentage that it makes up.
Unexpected chemicals detected in interstellar clouds
Until recently the rates of reactions in interstellar clouds were expected to be very slow, with minimal products being produced due to the low temperature and density of the clouds. However, large organic molecules were observed in the spectra that scientists would not have expected to find under these conditions.
The reactions needed to create them normally only occur at much higher temperatures and pressures. The fact that they were found indicates that these chemical reactions in interstellar clouds take place faster than suspected. These reactions are studied in the CRESU experiment.