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AstroChemical Origins

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ACO (AstroChemical Origins)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

Thousands of exoplanets have been found in the Milky Way since the first discovered by the Nobel laureates Mayor and Queloz in 1995. Yet, none of the so far known planetary systems resembles to our own Solar System.
Nature has, clearly, thousands of ways to form a star and a surrounding planetary system and the question is: Which path did the Solar System follow?
Tightly associated to that, another basic question arises: Did the history of the Solar System formation facilitate or even trigger the emergence of life on Earth?
Since human memory, humankind has been asking similar questions that can be summarized in one single big one: What are our origins?

The ACO (Astro-Chemical Origins) project has the ambitious ultimate goal to discover the link between the interstellar chemistry and the one responsible of the chemical composition of the Solar System bodies: in other words, ACO goal is to understand our astro-chemical origins.
The figure schematically shows the context, method and goal of the ACO project.

In order to achieve this goal, the project is split in five major objectives. Together, they aim to better characterize the chemical composition of the planetary systems forming nowadays in the Milky Way, to understand their variety and its origin and, ultimately, to identify the path followed by the Solar System by comparing its chemical properties with the systems that now in their early evolution.

The project is organized in four Work Packages (WPs), whose specific objectives are:
1) Improve the detection capabilities;
2) Set up a large database of observations
3) Understand the astrochemical processes
4) Develop astrochemical models and tools, and a new Proto Solar nebula model.
The backbone of the project is realized by 17 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs), who are carrying out PhD thesis on the multidisciplinary aspects of the project, summarized in four general fields: instrumentation, astronomy, chemistry and informatics.
Most ESRs have been recruited in November 2019, just before the outbreak of COVID-19.
Yet, already several results have been achieved in all the four WPs and whose published results can be found in the ACO website (
1) We obtained a novel design of a superconducting parametric amplifier tailored to line receivers and multiband feed-horns, which will allow us to build new powerful receivers in the radio wavelength range.
2) We were awarded the ALMA Large Program FAUST ( that has started to provide us with new unprecedented data on the chemical composition of Solar-like planet forming systems. Meanwhile, we have exploited and published the data from the Herschel and NOEMA Large Programs SOLIS ( and CHESS, respectively, which provided us with new insights of the chemical richness and diversity during the early phase of the planetary system formation.
3) We have studied some of the most exotic and poorly understood interstellar chemistry processes, which are crucial to understand the message from the observed chemical composition of Solar-like young planet forming systems. We carried out both new theoretical and experimental studies, using the most up-to-date techniques and providing the astrochemical community with new data to be used in astrochemical models.
4) We have developed new sophisticated models and tools for the extraction of the information contained in the astronomical observations, as well for the realistic modeling of the chemistry and ices in the Proto Solar Nebula.
ACO is a large-scale multidisciplinary project, where all the aspects necessary to achieve the goal of understanding our Astro-Chemical Origins are addressed. This coordinated wide-ranging scientific effort will provide unprecedent insights on astrochemistry, from basic data to sophisticated interpretations. Each of the four Work Packages that constitute the ACO project will in themselves provide beyond the state methodologies and discoveries, whose application goes beyond the project goal and context. We aim at feeding the whole astrochemical community with new and important receivers, astronomical observations, chemical data and processes and, finally, state of the art software to merge all this information and extract the most from it.

More in general, space science represents an important inspirational tool for exciting and motivating young people, and encouraging them to choose scientific careers. Space is also a domain that easily captures the interest of students towards education paths in the fields of science and technology. Positive exposure to and experiences in the space domain can contribute moreover to building long-term partnerships between peoples from different cultural backgrounds and countries.

Finally, knowing the path that the Solar System took in its voyage from a diffuse cloud to a planetary system that hosts life has arguably a far-reaching impact on the overall human knowledge and an immediate impact on our society.
Our Dissemination & Outreach program is designed to maximize this impact and to provide the European citizen with the most accessible and up-to-date information on our past sideral history. As an example, we plan to produce a Virtual Reality model of the early physical and chemical evolution of the Solar System, which will be made publicly available for being enjoyed in smartphones and personal computers.