About the detectability of glycine in the interstellar medium
UPMC Univ. Paris 06, UMR - CNRS 7616, Laboratoire de Chimie Théorique, 75005 Paris, France
2 Laboratoire d’Astrophysique, Observatoire de Grenoble, 38041 Grenoble, France
Received: 1 November 2010
Accepted: 12 May 2011
Context. Glycine, the simplest of aminoacids, has been found in several carbonaceous meteorites. It remains unclear, however, wether glycine is formed in the interstellar medium (ISM) and therefore available everywhere in the Universe. For this reason, radioastronomers have searched for many years unsuccessfully to detect glycine in the ISM.
Aims. We provide possible guidelines to optimize the return of these searches. Since, for most of the species observed so far in the ISM, the most abundant isomer of a given generic chemical formula is the most stable one (minimum energy principle (MEP)), we assess whether neutral glycine is the best molecule to search for or whether one of its isomers/conformers or ionic, protonated, or zwitterionic derivatives would have a higher probability of being detected.
Methods. The question of the relative stability of these different species is addressed by means of quantum density functional theory (DFT) simulations within the hybrid B3LYP formalism. Each fully optimized structure is verified as a stationary point by means of a vibrational analysis. A comprehensive screening of 32 isomers/conformers of the C2H5O2N chemical formula (neutral, negative, and positive ions together with the corresponding protonated species and the possible zwitterionic structures) is carried out. In the sensitive case of the neutral compounds, more accurate relative energies were obtained by means of high level post Hartree-Fock coupled cluster calculations with large basis sets (CCSD(T)/cc-pVQZ).
Results. We find that neutral glycine is not the most stable isomer and, therefore, probably not the most abundant one, which might explain why it has escaped detection so far. We find instead that N-methyl carbamic acid and methyl carbamate are the two most stable isomers and, therefore, probably the two most abundant ones. Among the non-neutral forms, we found that glycine is the most stable isomer only if protonated or zwitterionic if present in interstellar ices.
Conclusions. Assuming that MEP can be applied to optimize our search for glycine, our conclusion is that this search will remain extremely difficult with the present instruments and we propose searching instead for other examples among the most stable isomers.
Key words: ISM: molecules
© ESO, 2011