Floppy molecules go stellar

US researchers hope to boldly go where no chemist has gone before, by taking the first step toward overcoming a decades-old challenge in chemistry - explaining reactions that occur within very cold clouds among the stars. Their findings could lead to new approaches to more down to earth chemistry. David Nesbitt and colleagues at JILA, a joint institute of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado at Boulder, and Joel Bowman at Emory University, Atlanta and Anne McCoy at The Ohio State University in Columbus, are investigating the super-acid protonated methane, a carbon with five hydrogens and a positive charge. Cryogenic infrared spectroscopy is revealing how this species behaves as it "morphs" between isoenergetic structures and could provide new clues as to how cosmic reactions occur.