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Chemistry in Space

  1. Dieter Rehder

Published Online: 13 APR 2012

DOI: 10.1002/0471238961.chemrehd.a01

Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology

Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology

How to Cite

Rehder, D. 2012. Chemistry in Space. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. 1–38.

Author Information

  1. University of Hamburg

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 APR 2012

Chemistry Terms

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The abundance of the elements, their present chemical forms and distribution within the universe is the result of lengthy and complex evolutionary processes. The formation of the elements began with the origin of the universe and has continued in the interiors of stars up to the present. As a result of extensive processing and recycling of material, the relative abundances of the elements do not, in general, vary greatly from one region of the universe to another. Significant exceptions do occur and a prime example is Earth. Most atoms in the universe are currently in environments much too high to permit the existence of stable chemical bonds, but in selected environments, stable bonds do exist and chemistry plays an important role. Examples of such regions are planetary bodies, interstellar clouds, and atmospheres of cool stars. In some of these environments, chemical properties, and the relative abundances of the elements can differ greatly from their original cosmic abundances.

This article gives details on the origin and development of the universe, evolution of stars, the interstellar medium, the Solar System, asteroids and meteorites, and the exoplanets. Life and its beginnings in the universe are discussed.

Space chemistry has a practical aspect in that astrophysical processes determined the composition and environment of Earth and to some extent its evolution. Processes observed on the other planets provide insight into aspects of terrestrial evolution that cannot be deduced from study on Earth alone. Such knowledge of the chemistry of space also is needed for the never-ending search for extraterrestrial life as well as the commercial projects for space manufacturing and building of the infrastructure needed to make these ventures safe and profitable.


  • Solar system;
  • Exoplanets;
  • Space processing;
  • Cosmic evolution;
  • Extraterrestrial life