Aromatics and Cyclic Molecules in Molecular Clouds: A New Dimension of Interstellar Organic Chemistry

By Keith Cowing
March 17, 2021
Filed under
Aromatics and Cyclic Molecules in Molecular Clouds: A New Dimension of Interstellar Organic Chemistry
Examples of aromatic species that may be of astronomical interest now that cyanobenzene has been found in space. Radioastronomical evidence for the two molecules highlighted in light blue boxes has now been found.

Astrochemistry lies at the nexus of astronomy, chemistry, and molecular physics. On the basis of precise laboratory data, a rich collection of more than 200 familiar and exotic molecules have been identified in the interstellar medium, the vast majority by their unique rotational fingerprint.

Despite this large body of work, there is scant evidence in the radio band for the basic building blocks of chemistry on earth — five and six-membered rings — despite long standing and sustained efforts during the past 50 years. In contrast, a peculiar structural motif, highly unsaturated carbon in a chain-like arrangement, is instead quite common in space. The recent astronomical detection of cyanobenzene, the simplest aromatic nitrile, in the dark molecular cloud TMC-1, and soon afterwards in additional pre-stellar, and possibly protostellar sources, establishes that aromatic chemistry is likely widespread in the earliest stages of star formation.

The subsequent discovery of cyanocyclopentadienes and even cyanonapthlenes in TMC-1 provides further evidence that organic molecules of considerable complexity are readily synthesized in regions with high visual extinction but where the low temperature and pressure are remarkably low. This review focuses on laboratory efforts now underway to understand the rich transition region between linear and planar carbon structures using microwave spectroscopy.

We present key features, advantages, and disadvantages of current detection methods, a discussion of the types of molecules found in space and in the laboratory, and approaches under development to identify entirely new species in complex mixtures. Studies focusing on the cyanation of hydrocarbons and the formation of benzene from acyclic precursors are highlighted, as is the role that isotopic studies might play in elucidating the chemical pathways to ring formation.

Michael C. McCarthy, Brett A. McGuire

Comments: Journal of Physical Chemistry A, accepted
Subjects: Astrophysics of Galaxies (astro-ph.GA)
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpca.1c00129
Cite as: arXiv:2103.09608 [astro-ph.GA] (or arXiv:2103.09608v1 [astro-ph.GA] for this version)
Submission history
From: Brett McGuire
[v1] Wed, 17 Mar 2021 12:53:21 UTC (6,210 KB)
Astrobiology, Astrochemistry,

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»