Pretty crystals

This rather pretty and slightly fractalicious image is a micrograph of some naphthalene crystals, taken in polarised light. Naphthalene is an aromatic hydrocarbon, with two rings fused together (not polycyclic, just bicyclic). Interestingly, the crystal in the image looks a little bit like a snowflake. This is probably because aromatic hydrocarbons like naphthalene are made up of hexagonal rings, the same way that the clusters of water molecules that make up snowflakes are also hexagonal.

Being a major component of coal tar, as well as one of the many compounds formed readily in soot and car exhausts, naphthalene is an abundant molecule. Which is also why it’s one of those elusive hydrocarbons which crazy scientists like myself try to prove the existence of in interstellar space. One instance has been reported of a detection of ionised naphthalene in an interstellar cloud… but that detection remains unconfirmed so far. It’s bound to exist there. It just needs to be proven to.

Frankly, interstellar space is probably the best place for naphthalene. It’s a particularly pungent smelling chemical, with an odour detectable down to 0.08 parts per million. And people still put this stuff in their wardrobes to keep moths away!

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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4 Responses to Pretty crystals

  1. 6_bleen_7 says:

    Intriguingly, an analog exists for itching. If you cause pain where it itches, sometimes you won’t itch any more. But of course now you’re in pain. Often I’d rather have the pain.

  2. invaderxan says:

    I suppose in concept it kind works… Even if only by overloading your olfactory nerves so you become numb to the stench!

  3. nimblenimbus says:

    THAT’s what that stuff is? Oh man.
    Once a family member of mine decided to use way too much of it, while I was living with them. I smelled like it. It wasn’t good. I moved out, then. Everything got better.

  4. 6_bleen_7 says:

    Crazy! I remember seeing naphthalene mothballs in urinals, years ago. Think it was to control the smell, but all it did was to superimpose an even stronger smell on the existing one.

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