New Highly Reactive Chemical Found in the Earth’s Atmosphere

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Reactive Chemical
Courtesy of Bill Dickinson (Flickr CC0)

A new highly reactive chemical called organic hydrotrioxides (ROOOHs) exists in the atmosphere. The recently uncovered substances were found in Germany at the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS) using mass spectrometers and a free-jet flow tube.

An international team has detected the reactive chemical hydrotrioxides forming under atmospheric conditions from one hydrogen and three oxygen atoms present in the air.
The Earth’s atmosphere is comprised of 20% oxygen and 75% nitrogen. But there are millions of other inorganic and organic molecules. We can only speculate that it is such a complex system of different elements and compounds.

The University of Copenhagen chemist and professor Henrik Grum Kjærgaard said:

These compounds have always been around – we just didn’t know about them. But the fact that we now have evidence that the compounds are formed and live for a certain amount of time means that it is possible to study their effect.. and respond if they turn out to be dangerous.

The lower layer of the atmosphere is an enormous chemical reactor. Millions of metric tons of hydrocarbons are transformed into carbon dioxide and water every year.

Reactive Chemical
Courtesy of Al Case (Flickr CC0)

The hydrotrioxides are utilized in organic synthesis during the oxidation procedures. An oxidation procedure occurs when a molecule or atom loses electrons in chemical responses. These processes allowed scientists to study how the compound is synthesized, how it degrades, and how long it sticks around.

About ten million metric tons of ROOOHs are formed every year in the Earth’s atmosphere through isoprene, the primary element of natural rubber oxidation. The calculated hydrotrioxides lifetime is minutes or hours.

Experiments at the Caltech in the U.S. Quantum chemical calculation provided further information illustrating the ROOOHs compound stability conducted at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Kjærgaard is excited about a reactive chemical compound formed from atmospherically predominant prototypes (OH and RO2 radicals). Their study showed that using mass spectrometry on hydrotrioxides is feasible. It is now possible to investigate these compounds further using different systems.

Further investigation is required to outline the role of the reactive chemical hydrotrioxides in the atmosphere and the health and environmental implications.

Written by Janet Grace Ortigas

Sources:
Science Tech: An Entirely New Kind of Highly Reactive Chemical Has Been Found in The Atmosphere; by Mike McRae
Earth: Highly reactive chemicals discovered in the atmosphere; by Andrei Ionescu
Cosmos: New compound class found in atmosphere; by Evrim Yazgin

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Bill Dickinson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Al Case’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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