Hydrogen, as atomic H, is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, making up 75% of normal matter by mass and over 90% by number of atoms (most of the mass of the universe, however, is not in the form of chemical-element type matter, but rather is postulated to occur as yet-undetected forms of mass such as dark matter and dark energy). This element is found in great abundance in stars and gas giant planets. Molecular clouds of H2 are associated with star formation. Hydrogen plays a vital role in powering stars through proton-proton reaction and CNO cycle nuclear fusion.
Throughout the universe, hydrogen is mostly found in the atomic and plasma states whose properties are quite different from molecular hydrogen. As a plasma, hydrogen's electron and proton are not bound together, resulting in very high electrical conductivity and high emissivity (producing the light from the Sun and other stars). The charged particles are highly influenced by magnetic and electric fields. For example, in the solar wind they interact with the Earth's magnetosphere giving rise to Birkeland currents and the aurora. Hydrogen is found in the neutral atomic state in the Interstellar medium. The large amount of neutral hydrogen found in the damped Lyman-alpha systems is thought to dominate the cosmological baryonic density of the Universe up to redshift z=4.
Under ordinary conditions on Earth, elemental hydrogen exists as the diatomic gas, H2 (for data see table). However, hydrogen gas is very rare in the Earth's atmosphere (1 ppm by volume) because of its light weight, which enables it to escape from Earth's gravity more easily than heavier gases. However, hydrogen is the third most abundant element on the Earth's surface, mostly in the form of chemical compounds such as hydrocarbons and water. Hydrogen gas is produced by some bacteria and algae and is a natural component of flatus, as is methane, itself a hydrogen source of increasing importance.
A molecular form called protonated molecular hydrogen (H3+) is found in the interstellar medium (ISM), where it is generated by ionization of molecular hydrogen from cosmic rays. This charged ion has also been observed in the upper atmosphere of the planet Jupiter. The ion is relatively stable in the environment of outer space due to the low temperature and density. H3+ is one of the most abundant ions in the Universe, and it plays a notable role in the chemistry of the interstellar medium. Neutral triatomic hydrogen H3 can only exist in an excited form and is unstable. By contrast, the positive hydrogen molecular ion (H2+) is a rare molecule in the universe.
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