Indeed, they find that the reaction rate is 50 times higher in the cold interstellar environment than it is at room temperature. This has led to a significant finding - it would appear that a key methanol-destruction mechanism in the Universe is a consequence of quantum tunneling at very low temperatures.
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"Currently, this reaction is not included in astrochemical networks and, given the high abundances of both methanol and OH in star-forming regions, these results indicate that the reaction of OH with methanol may lead to a significant loss of methanol at low temperatures," they write.
"If our results continue to show a similar increase in the reaction rate at very cold temperatures, then scientists have been severely underestimating the rates of formation and destruction of complex molecules, such as alcohols, in space," said Heard in a press release.
Quantum tunneling explains how extreme chemical reactions occur in the hot cores of stars, but this is the first time that quantum tunneling has been pegged as the mechanism that allows ‘impossible' chemical reactions to take place in some of the coldest reaches of the Cosmos.