Research

The Molecular Astrophysics Group is a multidisciplinary group providing strong connections between Astrophysics, theoretical and experimental Chemical Physics, laboratory experiments in vacuum conditions, Material Science, and astronomical instrumentation for ground and space observatories. The Molecular Astrophysics Group is focused on the following four research lines (click on the images/videos below for a full-display):

Astrochemistry. Study of the evolution of chemical complexity in the Universe

ALMA image of the carbon-rich circumstellar envelope of IRC+10216 in the rotational emission of several molecular tracers – C3N, CN and HC3N – (Agúndez et al. 2017)
  • Modelling of the interstellar and circumstellar chemistry in gaseous and solid phases (from simple hydrides to complex organic molecules).

  • Molecular spectroscopy in gaseous phase: theoretical foundations, astronomical observations and laboratory experiments. Detection of new molecules in Space.

  • Interaction of the UV radiation with gas and interstellar dust (photodissociation regions).

Orion Bar photo-dissociation region, illuminated by strong UV radiation from massive stars in the Traprezium cluster, observed by ALMA (Goicoechea et al. 2016, Nature). The upper inset shows a line spectral survey carried out with the IRAM 30m telescope at millimeter wavelengths

Physical processes, evolution and radiative transfer in the interstellar and circumstellar medium

  • Small-scale physical processes: molecular excitation, gas heating and cooling mechanisms, absorption cross-sections, etc.

  • Large-scale physical processes: formation and evolution of structures, kinematics and dynamics. Atomic and molecular line-surveys of star-forming regions.

  • Other processes: NLTE excitation and radiative transfer in atomic and molecular lines. Propagation of radiation in the Earth atmosphere and development of codes to calibrate the observations in the millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelengths (ALMA, IRAM).

Simulations of molecular processes of astrophysical interest. Ab-initio quantum calculations.

 

  • Reactions of complex organic molecules at low temperatures using Potential Energy Surfaces and semi-classical (Ring-Polymer Molecular Dynamics) and classical methods to determine coefficient rates.

  • Study and determination of state-to-state rate coefficients of A + BC and AB + CD chemical reactions using wave-packet quantum calculations developed by our group.

  • Calculation of depolarization rate coefficients of atomic and diatomic species in collision with hydrogen atoms (and applications to the interpretation of the solar spectrum).

  • Study and numerical determination of photodissociation and photoisomerization rate coefficients of gas-phase molecules and their isomers, as well as interstellar ice-mantle analogs photodesorption rates and yields.

Development of astronomical software and instrumentation 

  • Development and maintenance of spectral catalogues: vibrational and rotational line spectroscopy of potential molecules to be detected in Space.

  • The “Gas Cell for chemical evolution” experimental set-up for NANOCOSMOS at the Observatorio Astronómico de Yebes (Guadalajara, Spain)

    Development of a vacuum chamber (Gas Cell for Laboratory Astrophysics – GACELA, see figure on the left”) coupled to heterodyne receivers for laboratory simulations of the chemistry in the interstellar medium. Contributions to the development of the Stardust Machine (ICMM) to study the formation and nucleation of dust grains. These developments have been fulfilled through the NANOCOSMOS project.

  • Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope in space. Credit: STScI-JWST

    Contributions to the scientific cases of prospective infrared and far-IR space telescopes (see this article on the James Webb Space Telescope).