May 2004

Formic Acid

Formic acid (HCOOH) was initially detected in the interstellar medium in 1971 by Zuckerman et al., with a second line reported by Winnewisser and Churchwell. It has been observed in comet Hale-Bopp and has also been found in chondritic meteorites. It has also been identified in several hot star-forming regions.

UPDATE (July 2018): The trans isomer of formic acid has recently been detected in the protoplanetary disk TW Hydrae by Favre et al.

Formic acid is the smallest carboxylic acid, which include a carbonyl doubly-bonded oxygen (=O) and a hydroxyl group (-OH) on the same carbon atom. In solution, formic acid may lose the OH proton to yield HCOO, the formate ion.

The name of a family of ants, Formicidae, reflects their use of formic acid in defense. The insect-like aliens in Ender's Game are sometimes known as Formics.

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