Formation of Interstellar Complex Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Insights from Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Dehydrogenated Benzene

M Hanine and ZS Meng and SR Lu and P Xie and S Picaud and M Devel and Z Wang, ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, 900, 188 (2020).

DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/abab06

Small organic molecules are thought to provide building blocks for the formation of complex interstellar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). However, the underlying chemical mechanisms remain unclear, particularly concerning the role of interstellar dust. Using molecular dynamics, we simulate the chemical reaction between dehydrogenated benzene molecules in the gas phase or on the surface of an onion-like carbon nanoparticle (NP). The reaction leads to the formation of PAHs of complex structures. The size of the formed molecules is found to roughly increase with increasing temperature up to 800 K, and to be correlated with the level of dehydrogenation. Morphology analysis features the formation of large rings that contain up to 32 carbon atom at high temperature. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations are performed to search the fundamental energetic reaction pathways. The DFT results quantitatively confirm the correlation between the reactivity and the dehydrogenation level, and the formation of stable C-8 rings. Moreover, the nanostructures formed on the NP surface point to a possible layer- by-layer formation mechanism for interstellar fullerene and carbon onions.

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