The interstellar medium constitutes a physically and chemically complex component of galaxies and is important in the cycle of matter and the evolution of stars. From various spectroscopic clues we now know that the interstellar medium is rich in organic compounds. However, identifying the exact nature of all these components remains a challenge. In particular the identification of the so-called diffuse band carriers has been alluding astronomers for almost a century.
In recent decades, observational, experimental and theoretical advances have rapidly lead to renewed interest in the diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs). This has been instigated partly by their perceived relation to the infrared aromatic emission bands, the UV extinction bump and far-UV rise, and the growing number of (small) organic molecules identified in space.
This chapter gives an overview of the observational properties and behaviour of the DIBs, and their presence throughout the Universe. I will highlight recent progress in identifying their carriers and discuss their potential as tracers and probes of (extra)-Galactic ISM conditions.