Volume 566, June 2014
|Number of page(s)||7|
|Published online||19 June 2014|
Random mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon spectra match interstellar infrared emission⋆
1 Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, PO Box 9513, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
2 Université de Toulouse, UPS-OMP, IRAP, Toulouse, France
3 CNRS, IRAP, 9 Av. colonel Roche, BP 44346, 31028 Toulouse Cedex 4, France
4 NASA Ames Research Center, MS 245-6, Moffett Field, CA 94035-0001, USA
Received: 7 April 2014
Accepted: 21 May 2014
The mid-infrared (mid-IR; 5–15 μm) spectrum of a wide variety of astronomical objects exhibits a set of broad emission features at 6.2, 7.7, 8.6, 11.3, and 12.7 μm. About 30 years ago it was proposed that these signatures are due to emission from a family of UV heated nanometer-sized carbonaceous molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), causing them to be referred to as aromatic IR bands (AIBs). Today, the acceptance of the PAH model is far from settled, as the identification of a single PAH in space has not yet been successful, and physically relevant theoretical models involving true PAH cross sections do not reproduce the AIBs in detail. In this paper, we use the NASA Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database, which contains over 500 quantum-computed spectra, in conjunction with a simple emission model, to show that the spectrum produced by any random mixture of at least 30 PAHs converges to the same kernel-spectrum. This kernel-spectrum captures the essence of the PAH emission spectrum and is highly correlated with observations of AIBs, strongly supporting PAHs as their source. Furthermore, the fact that a large number of molecules are required implies that spectroscopic signatures of the individual PAHs contributing to the AIBs spanning the visible, near-IR, and far-IR spectral regions are weak, explaining why they have not yet been detected. An improved effort, joining laboratory, theoretical, and observational studies of the PAH emission process, will support the use of PAH features as a probe of physical and chemical conditions in the near and distant Universe.
Key words: ISM: general / ISM: lines and bands / infrared: ISM / astrochemistry
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© ESO, 2014
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