Molecules in Space

Detection of new molecules, Molecular Spectroscopy in Space and Laboratory Astrophysics


Prof. José Cernicharo (research line leader), Dr. Marcelino Agúndez, Dr. Carlos Cabezas, Dr. José P. Fonfría, Dr. Nuria Marcelino, Dr. Sarah Massalkhi, Dr. Pablo Merino (also ICMM-CSIC), Dr. Juan R. Pardo, Dr. Guillermo Quintana-Lacaci, Dr. Marcelo Castellanos and Natalia R. Zelmanovitch. 

Associated members: Prof. Antonio Largo (head of Unidad Asociada Grupo de Espectroscopía Molecular – Universidad de Valladolid, Parque Científico de la UVA), Prof. José L. Alonso (former head), Prof. Carmen Barrientos and Prof. Pilar Redondo.

Research line briefing: this research line addresses the chemical complexity in space through multi and interdisciplinary frontier studies in the circumstellar envelopes of asymptotic giant branch stars (AGBs), supergiants and other evolved stars, cold molecular clouds and cold prestellar cores. We aim to identify key topics in these areas like dust grain formation, carbon, oxygen, silicon and nitrogen chemistry, deuteration, molecular tracers of shocks and water abundance. We address these science topics through ground-based multi-wavelength observations (radio with the Yebes Observatory; mm and submm with the ALMA interferometer and IRAM radio telescope; mid-infrared with the IRTF facility and optical with CAHA/CARMENES). These observations are complemented with space missions (data archives from ISO, Herschel) and airborne observatories (SOFIA in the mid-infrared). Finally, the line benefits from outstanding beyond-the-state-of-the-art laboratory experiments (GACELA under our leading ERC NANOCOSMOS project) to characterize molecules of astrophysical interest in order to search for them in Space and to study cold plasmas.

Main Research Topics

Recent Publications

Main national and international collaborations

Research projects (last 5 years)

  • Gas and dust from Stars to the Laboratory: Exploring the Nanocosmos (NANOCOSMOS)” (08/2014 – 07/2021). Reference: ERC-2013-SyG, Grant Agreement 610256. Funding agency: European Research Council (ERC, FP7). Corresponding principal investigator: Prof. José Cernicharo. Total funding: 14,98 M€.
  • Moléculas como precursores de los granos de polvo en estrellas evolucionadas. Desde las envolturas circunestelares al Medio Interestelar” – (06/2020 – 05/2024). Reference: PID2019-107115GB-C21. Funding agency: Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Agencia Estatal de Investigación). Principal investigator: Prof. José Cernicharo. Total funding: 181.500 €.
  • Evolución física y química del Medio Interestelar, Circunestelar y Planetario” – (12/2016 – 12/2020). Reference: AYA2016-75066-C2-1-P. Funding agency: Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad (Agencia Estatal de Investigación). Principal investigator: Dr. Marcelino Agúndez. Total funding: 231.110 €.

Scholar supervision (last 5 years)

  • Massalkhi, Sarah. Ph. D. title: “An Observational Study of Molecular Dust Precursors in Circumstellar Envelopes“. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (18/12/2020). Supervisor(s): Agúndez, M.; Cernicharo, J.
  • López-Jiménez, Alicia. Ph. D. title: “Química de Moléculas Orgánicas en Regiones de Formación de Estrellas Masivas“. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (09/2017). Supervisor(s): Cernicharo, J.; Tercero, B.; Sánchez-Blázquez, P.
  • Cuadrado Prado, Sara. Ph. D. title: “Molecular content in the Orion Bar photodissociation region“. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (09/2017). Supervisor(s): Goicoechea, J. R.; Cernicharo, J.
  • Velilla Prieto, Luis. Ph. D. title: “Molecular complexity in envelopes of evolved stars : detailed study of the molecular emissión of the objects IK Tau, OH231.8 + 4,2 and IRC+ 10216“. Universidad Complutense de Madrid (06/2017). Supervisor(s): Sánchez-Contreras, C.; Cernicharo, J.

Guillermo Quintana-Lacaci at the IRAM 30m Summerschool 2019

The IRAM 30m Summerschool 2019 will take place, from the 6th to the 13th of September, in Pradollano (near Granada, Spain). This year, one of the scientific talks will be given by one of our members, Guillermo Quintana-Lacaci, and it will be focused on Evolved Stars.

The 9th IRAM 30m summerschool will combine lectures on millimeter astronomy with observations using the 30m telescope.

Lectures will be given by experienced scientists and 30m observers, covering a range of topics, from comets and planetary atmospheres in the solar system to the study of the chemistry of interstellar clouds, low and high mass star formation, in the Milky Way, in nearby galaxies, and in ultra-luminous objects at high-redshifts.

These lectures will be complemented by shorter lectures on instrumentation, observing techniques, and data processing.

More information here.

Evidence of interstellar molecular gas and dust orbiting around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/ J. R. Goicoechea (Instituto de Física Fundamental, CSIC, Spain)

Dr. Javier R. Goicoechea is leading a new research that proves the existence of short-lived molecular cloudlets (ages less than 10,000 years and total mass of about 60 solar masses) around Sgr A*, the location of the super massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. This research has revealed exciting evidence of molecular gas, the fuel that forms stars, orbiting within the central parsec of the Milky Way at high speeds, up to about 300 km/s. The images (1″-resolution ALMA observations, see above) reveal the small spatial scale morphology of the interstellar gas in this fascinating region and the presence of molecular “cloudlets” (less than 20,000 AU size) at about one light year from SgrA*. While it is unlikely that the observed cloudlets will directly form new massive stars, their presence is a piece of the puzzle toward understanding the formation of stars close to supermassive black holes. The above image is ESO’s Picture of the Week (see below).

More information:

This research was presented in the paper “High-speed molecular cloudlets around the Galactic center’s supermassive black hole“, published in Astronomy and Astrophysics Volume 618,  A35 (19pp), 11 October 2018. The authors are: Javier R. Goicoechea (Instituto de Física Fundamental, IFF-CSIC, Madrid, Spain), Jerome Pety (Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM), France), Edwige Chapillon (Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) and OASU/LAB-UMR5804, CNRS, Université Bordeaux, France), José Cernicharo (Instituto de Física Fundamental, IFF-CSIC, Madrid, Spain), Maryvonne Gerin (Sorbonne Université, Observatoire de Paris, France), Cinthya Herrera (Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM), France), Miguel A. Requena-Torres (Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland, USA) and Miriam G. Santa-Maria (Instituto de Física Fundamental, IFF-CSIC, Madrid, Spain).

Link to ESO Picture of the Week and description (European Southern Observatory)