July 2020
Methyl isocyanate

Three papers published in 2015 and 2016 reported the detection of methyl isocyanate (CH3NCO) in a comet and in different interstellar sources. First, Goesmann et al. reported the detection of methyl isocyanate and fifteen other organic molecules on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko using the mass spectrometer on Rosetta's Philae lander shortly after it reached the surface. Later in 2015, Halfen, Ilyushin, and Ziurys identified the molecule toward Sgr B2(N) (the north complex) via five sequential rotational transtions in each of its rotational conformers. Finally, Cernicharo et al. reported matches to nearly 400 lines of methyl isocyanate toward the Kleinmann-Low region of the great nebula in Orion. The interstellar detections were based on observations made with the ARO 12m telescope, the IRAM 30m telescope, and ALMA. The large number of lines matched by Cernicharo et al. was made possible by a new spectroscopic study of methyl isocyanate.

Researcher Links
Goesmann et al. 2015
Halfen et al. 2015
Cernicharo et al. 2016

Methyl isocyanate and isocyanic acid (HNCO) are related compounds both observed in interstellar sources. While cyanic acid (HOCN) has been observed, a search for methyl cyanate (CH3OCN) was unsuccessful.

While methyl isocyanate is a stable compound, it is very toxic. The worst industrial accident in history occurred in 1984 when half a million people in Bhopal were exposed to methyl isocyanate released from a Union Carbide India Limited plant.


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