November 2003

Phosphorus Nitride

Phosphorus nitride (PN) is a heteronuclear diatomic molecule. In 1987 it became the first example of a phosphorus-containing species to be detected in interstellar molecular clouds. Two different groups made the identification in parallel investigations by Turner and Bally and by Ziurys.

PN is a cousin of N2, a very stable molecule due its triple bond. PN also has a triple bond, but it is substantially weaker because P is larger than N. Unlike N2, PN has a dipole moment and is therefore a good candidate for radioastronomy.

Phosphorus is one of the principal biogenic elements, along with C, H, O. N, and S. In terrestrial biology, it is present in bone (as calcium phosphate) and a critical component of metabolism in the form of ATP or adenosine triphosphate. Finally, phosphorus is a critical component of both DNA and RNA, where phosphodiester groups are part of the nucleic acid backbone.


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