Trans-cis Molecular Photoswitching In Interstellar Space

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
November 6, 2016
Filed under
Trans-cis Molecular Photoswitching In Interstellar Space

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.

S. Cuadrado, J. R. Goicoechea, O. Roncero, A. Aguado, B. Tercero, J. Cernicharo
(Submitted on 3 Nov 2016)

Comments: Manuscript accepted for publication in A&A
Subjects: Astrophysics of Galaxies (astro-ph.GA)
Cite as: arXiv:1611.01001 [astro-ph.GA] (or arXiv:1611.01001v1 [astro-ph.GA] for this version)
Submission history
From: Sara Cuadrado
[v1] Thu, 3 Nov 2016 13:29:08 GMT (1233kb,D)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) πŸ––πŸ»