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List of molecules in interstellar space

This is a list of molecules that have been detected in the interstellar medium, grouped by the number of component atoms. The chemical formula is listed for each detected compound, along with any ionized form that has also been observed.

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The molecules listed below were detected by spectroscopy. Their spectral features are generated by transitions of component electrons between different energy levels, or by rotational or vibrational spectra. Detection usually occurs in radio, microwave, or infrared portions of the spectrum.[1] The first such molecule to be detected in the interstellar medium was the methylidyne radical (CH) in 1937.[2]

Interstellar molecules are formed by chemical reactions within very sparse interstellar or circumstellar clouds of dust and gas. Usually this occurs when a molecule becomes ionized, often as the result of an interaction with a cosmic ray. This positively-charged molecule then draws in a nearby reactant by electrostatic attraction of the neutral molecule's electrons. Molecules can also be generated by reactions between neutral atoms and molecules, although this process is generally slower.[1]

A particularly large and rich region for detecting interstellar molecules is Sagittarius B2 (Sgr B2). This giant molecular cloud lies near the center of the Milky Way galaxy and is a frequent target for new searches. About half of the molecules listed below were first found near Sgr B2, and nearly every other molecule has since been detected in this feature.[3]


The following tables list molecules that have been detected in the interstellar medium, grouped by the number of component atoms. If there is no entry in the Molecule column, only the ionized form has been detected. For molecules where no designation was given in the scientific literature, that field is left empty.


Table 1. Diatomic
AlClAluminum monochloride[5][6]
AlFAluminum monofluoride[7][5]
C2Carbon dimer[8][9]
CHMethylidyne radical[11]CH+[12]
CNCyanogen radical[13][14][5][11]
COCarbon monoxide[5]CO+[15]
CPCarbon monophosphide[14]
CSCarbon monosulfide[5]
FeOIron(II) oxide[16]
H2Molecular hydrogen[17]
HClHydrogen chloride[18]
HFHydrogen fluoride[19]
HNNitrogen monohydride[20]
HOHydroxyl radical[5]
KClPotassium chloride[5][6]
N2Molecular nitrogen[21]
NONitric oxide[22]
NSNitrogen sulfide[5]
NaClSodium chloride[5][6]
O2Molecular oxygen[23]
PNPhosphorus nitride[24]
POPhosphorus monoxide[25]
SHSulfur hydride[26]SH+[27]
SOSulfur monoxide[5]SO+[12]
SiNSilicon mononitride[5]
SiOSilicon monoxide[5]
SiSSilicon monosulfide[5]


Table 2. Triatomic
AlNCAluminum isocyanide[5]
C2HEthynyl radical[5][13]
C2ODicarbon monoxide[30]
CO2Carbon dioxide[32]
Protonated molecular hydrogenH3+[33]
H2SHydrogen sulfide[5]
HCNHydrogen cyanide[36][5][13]
HCOFormyl radical[37]HCO+[38][37][12]
HNCHydrogen isocyanide[40]
KCNPotassium cyanide[5]
MgCNMagnesium cyanide[5]
MgNCMagnesium isocyanide[5]
NH2Amino radical[42]
N2ONitrous oxide[44]
NaCNSodium cyanide[5]
OCSCarbonyl sulfide[45]
SO2Sulfur dioxide[46][5] 
c-SiC2c-Silicon dicarbide[5][28]
SiCNSilicon carbonitride[47]
SiNCSilicon naphthalocyanine[48]


Table 3. Four atoms
C3OTricarbon monoxide[50]
H2CNMethylene amidogen[55]H2CN+[12]
Protonated hydrogen cyanideHCNH+[38]
Protonated carbon dioxideHOCO+[59]
HNCOIsocyanic acid[46]
HNCSIsothiocyanic acid[60]
SiC3Silicon tricarbide[5] 


Table 4. Five atoms
Protonated formaldehydeH2COH+[68]
HCOOHFormic acid[65]
SiC4Silicon-carbide cluster[28]


Table 5. Six atoms
CH3NCMethyl isocyanide[76]
Protonated cyanoacetyleneHC3NH+[38]


Table 6. Seven atoms
c-C2H4OEthylene oxide[81]
H2CHCOHVinyl alcohol[80]
Table 7. Eight atoms
HCOOCH3Methyl formate[85][46][65]
CH3COOHAcetic acid[86]
C7HHeptatrienyl radical[87]


Table 8. Nine atoms
CH3OCH3Dimethyl Ether[89]
CH3CH2OHTrans-Ethyl Alcohol[90]
C8HOctatetraynyl[91] C8H[92][93]
CH3CHCH2Propylene (propene)[96] 
Table 9. Ten or more atoms
12CH3OC2H5Trans-ethyl methyl ether[98]

Deuterated molecules

See also: Deuterium
Table 10. Molecules containing a deuterium atom
HD, H2D+Deuterated molecular hydrogen[99][100]
HDO, D2OHeavy water[101][102]
DCNHydrogen cyanide[103]
DCOFormyl radical[103]
DNCHydrogen isocyanide[103]
NH2D, NHD2, ND3Ammonia[100][104][105]
HDCO, D2COFormaldehyde[106][100]
CH2DCCH, CH3CCDMethylacetylene[107][108]


The following molecules have been reported as detected in scientific literature, but they have not yet been confirmed through subsequent searches.

Table 11. Unconfirmed molecules

See also


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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "List_of_molecules_in_interstellar_space". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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