Volume 596, December 2016
|Number of page(s)||10|
|Published online||22 November 2016|
Trans-cis molecular photoswitching in interstellar space⋆
1 Grupo de Astrofísica Molecular, Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid (ICMM-CSIC), Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz 3, 28049 Cantoblanco, Madrid, Spain
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2 Instituto de Física Fundamental (IFF-CSIC), Calle Serrano 123, 28006 Madrid, Spain
3 Facultad de Ciencias, Unidad Asociada de Química-Física Aplicada CSIC-UAM, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid, Spain
Received: 17 October 2016
Accepted: 2 November 2016
As many organic molecules, formic acid (HCOOH) has two conformers (trans and cis). The energy barrier to internal conversion from trans to cis is much higher than the thermal energy available in molecular clouds. Thus, only the most stable conformer (trans) is expected to exist in detectable amounts. We report the first interstellar detection of cis-HCOOH. Its presence in ultraviolet (UV) irradiated gas exclusively (the Orion Bar photodissociation region), with a low trans-to-cis abundance ratio of 2.8 ± 1.0, supports a photoswitching mechanism: a given conformer absorbs a stellar photon that radiatively excites the molecule to electronic states above the interconversion barrier. Subsequent fluorescent decay leaves the molecule in a different conformer form. This mechanism, which we specifically study with ab initio quantum calculations, was not considered in Space before but likely induces structural changes of a variety of interstellar molecules submitted to UV radiation.
Key words: astrochemistry / line: identification / ISM: clouds / ISM: molecules / photon-dominated region (PDR)
© ESO, 2016
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