Following the interstellar history of carbon: From the interiors of stars to the surfaces of planets

L. M. Ziurys, D. T. Halfen, W. Geppert, Y. Aikawa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The chemical history of carbon is traced from its origin in stellar nucleosynthesis to its delivery to planet surfaces. The molecular carriers of this element are examined at each stage in the cycling of interstellar organic material and their eventual incorporation into solar system bodies. The connection between the various interstellar carbon reservoirs is also examined. Carbon has two stellar sources: supernova explosions and mass loss from evolved stars. In the latter case, the carbon is dredged up from the interior and then ejected into a circumstellar envelope, where a rich and unusual C-based chemistry occurs. This molecular material is eventually released into the general interstellar medium through planetary nebulae. It is first incorporated into diffuse clouds, where carbon is found in polyatomic molecules such as H2CO, HCN, HNC, c-C3H2, and even C60 +. These objects then collapse into dense clouds, the sites of star and planet formation. Such clouds foster an active organic chemistry, producing compounds with a wide range of functional groups with both gas-phase and surface mechanisms. As stars and planets form, the chemical composition is altered by increasing stellar radiation, as well as possibly by reactions in the presolar nebula. Some molecular, carbon-rich material remains pristine, however, encapsulated in comets, meteorites, and interplanetary dust particles, and is delivered to planet surfaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)997-1012
Number of pages16
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Carbon isotopes
  • Comets
  • Interstellar molecules
  • Meteorites
  • Prebiotic evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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