HYDROCARBON, in chemistry, a compound of carbon and hydrogen. Many occur in nature in the free state: for example, natural gas, petroleum and paraffin are entirely composed of such bodies; other natural sources are india-rubber, turpentine and certain essential oils. They are also revealed by the spectroscope in stars, comets and the Sun. Of artificial productions the most fruitful and important is provided by the destructive or dry distillation of many organic substances; familiar examples are the distillation of coal, which yields ordinary lighting gas, composed of gaseous hydrocarbons, and also coal tar, which, on subsequent fractional distillations, yields many liquid and solid hydrocarbons, all of high industrial value. For details reference should be made to the articles wherein the above subjects are treated. From the chemical point of view the hydrocarbons are of fundamental importance, and, on account of their great number, and still greater number of derivatives, they are studied as a separate branch of the science, namely, organic chemistry.
See CHEMISTRY for an account of their classification, etc.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)