Abundance of SiC2 in carbon star envelopes★
Evidence that SiC2 is a gas-phase precursor of SiC dust
Grupo de Astrofísica Molecular, Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid, CSIC,
C/ Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz 3,
28049 Cantoblanco, Spain
2 Observatorio Astronómico Nacional (IGN), C/ Alfonso XII 3, 28014 Madrid, Spain
3 Observatorio Astronómico Nacional (IGN), Apartado de Correos 112, 28803 Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
Accepted: 27 October 2017
Context. Silicon carbide dust is ubiquitous in circumstellar envelopes around C-rich asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars. However, the main gas-phase precursors leading to the formation of SiC dust have not yet been identified. The most obvious candidates among the molecules containing an Si–C bond detected in C-rich AGB stars are SiC2, SiC, and Si2C. To date, the ring molecule SiC2 has been observed in a handful of evolved stars, while SiC and Si2C have only been detected in the C-star envelope IRC +10216.
Aim. We aim to study how widespread and abundant SiC2, SiC, and Si2C are in envelopes around C-rich AGB stars, and whether or not these species play an active role as gas-phase precursors of silicon carbide dust in the ejecta of carbon stars.
Methods. We carried out sensitive observations with the IRAM 30 m telescope of a sample of 25 C-rich AGB stars to search for emission lines of SiC2, SiC, and Si2C in the λ 2 mm band. We performed non-LTE excitation and radiative transfer calculations based on the LVG method to model the observed lines of SiC2 and to derive SiC2 fractional abundances in the observed envelopes.
Results. We detect SiC2 in most of the sources, SiC in about half of them, and do not detect Si2C in any source except IRC +10216. Most of these detections are reported for the first time in this work. We find a positive correlation between the SiC and SiC2 line emission, which suggests that both species are chemically linked; the SiC radical is probably the photodissociation product of SiC2 in the external layer of the envelope. We find a clear trend where the denser the envelope, the less abundant SiC2 is. The observed trend is interpreted as evidence of efficient incorporation of SiC2 onto dust grains, a process that is favored at high densities owing to the higher rate at which collisions between particles take place.
Conclusions. The observed behavior of a decline in the SiC2 abundance with increasing density strongly suggests that SiC2 is an important gas-phase precursor of SiC dust in envelopes around carbon stars.
Key words: astrochemistry / molecular processes / stars: abundances / stars: AGB and post-AGB / stars: carbon / circumstellar matter
© ESO 2018