Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso


  • Alan W. Schwartz
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_224-4



Carbon: The sixth element of the periodic table


Carbon is the sixth element in the periodic table. Its stable isotopes include 12C, the nucleus of which contains six protons and six neutrons, and 13C, which contains six protons and seven neutrons. Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the solar atmosphere, after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. This predominance is largely due to the autocatalytic role of carbon in the stellar nucleosynthesis of elements higher than hydrogen via proton addition (Bethe 1939):
$$ \begin{array}{c}{}^{12}\mathrm{C}+\mathrm{H}{\to}^{13}\mathrm{N}+\gamma \\ {}{}^{13}\mathrm{N}{\to}^{13}\mathrm{C}+{\mathrm{e}}^{+}\\ {}{}^{13}\mathrm{C}+\mathrm{H}{\to}^{14}\mathrm{N}+\gamma \\ {}{}^{14}\mathrm{N}+\mathrm{H}{\to}^{15}\mathrm{O}+\gamma \\ {}{}^{15}\mathrm{O}{\to}^{15}\mathrm{N}+{\mathrm{e}}^{+}\\ {}{}^{15}\mathrm{N}+\mathrm{H}{\to}^{12}\mathrm{C}{+}^4\mathrm{He}\end{array} $$


Carbon Isotope Elemental Carbon Carbonaceous Chondrite Murchison Meteorite White Crystalline Substance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References and Further Reading

  1. Arnold JR, Libby WF (1949) Age determinations by radiocarbon content: checks with samples of known age. Science 110:678–680CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker L, Poreda RJ, Bunch TE (2000) Fullerenes: an extraterrestrial carbon carrier phase for noble gases. Proc Natl Acad Sci 97:2979–2983CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  3. Bethe HA (1939) Energy production in stars. Phys Rev 55:434–456CrossRefADSzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  4. Henderson LJ (1913) The fitness of the environment: an inquiry into the biological significance of the properties of matter. Macmillan, BostonGoogle Scholar
  5. Hirsch A (2010) The era of carbon allotropes. Nature Materials 9:868–871CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  6. McCollom TM, Seewald JS (2006) Carbon isotope composition of organic compounds produced by abiotic synthesis under hydrothermal conditions. Earth Planet Sci Lett 243:74–84CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  7. McKie D (1944) Wöhler’s ‘synthetic’ urea and the rejection of vitalism: a chemical legend. Nature 153:608–610CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  8. Moore FJ (1918) A history of chemistry. McGraw-Hill Books, New York, Reprint by General Books, Memphis, Tennessee, 2009Google Scholar
  9. Nagy B (1975) Carbonaceous meteorites. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 43–78Google Scholar
  10. Novoselov et al. (2004) Electric Field Effect in Atomically Thin Carbon Films. Science 306:666–669Google Scholar
  11. Pauling L (1931) The nature of the chemical bond. Applications of results obtained from the quantum mechanics and from a theory of paramagnetic susceptibility to the structure of molecules. J Am Chem Soc 53:1367–1400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Schidlowski M, Hayes JM, Kaplan IR (1983) In: Schopf JW (ed) Isotopic inferences of ancient biochemistries: carbon, sulfur, hydrogen, and nitrogen in earth’s earliest biosphere. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 149–186Google Scholar
  13. Wald G (1958) Introduction to the 1958 edition of Henderson. Beacon Press, Boston, pp xvi–xxiv, op.citGoogle Scholar
  14. Wederpohl KH (ed) (1978) Handbook of geochemistry, vol II/1(6). Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Radboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands