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ASTROLAB Report Summary

Project ID: 307163
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Final Report Summary - ASTROLAB (Cold Collisions and the Pathways Toward Life in Interstellar Space)

The ASTROLAB project aims at a better understanding of ion-neutral collisions and their impact on interstellar chemistry. In the cold and dilute interstellar medium, reactions between molecular ions and neutral atoms are the driving forces of a rich chemical network. They enable the buildup of larger molecules, eventually resulting in the gas-phase formation of interstellar water and the creation of organic molecules in space. However, ion-atom collisions are particularly difficult to study in the laboratory, as both reactants are very reactive and have to be created in defined quantum states, before they can be merged under controlled conditions.
The main instrumentation effort of the ASTROLAB project is a dedicated neutral atom collision setup for the Cryogenic Storage Ring (CSR). The CSR is the largest electrostatic storage ring project in the world. It has a nested vacuum structure with a circumference of 35.4m that can be cooled by a closed-cycle liquid helium circuit to temperatures below 10K (-263C). These extreme temperatures lead to a freeze-out of any residual gas in the inner chambers which results in an extremely clean vacuum, corresponding to only ~100 particles per cubic centimeter and resembling conditions found in the diffuse interstellar medium. In the first cold phase of the CSR we have demonstrated the preparation of cold molecular ion beams in their lowest quantum states for both positive and negative ions. The neutral-atom setup has been installed and tested and the preparations for the first merged beams experiments are ongoing.

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