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Astrophysics Research and Analysis

Absolute Infrared Intensities and Interstellar Ice Abundances – From Neutrals to Ions

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Absolute Infrared Intensities and Interstellar Ice Abundances – From Neutrals to Ions
Infrared (IR) telescopes, such as Spitzer and SOFIA, have revealed a rich variety of chemical species trapped in interstellar ices. However, quantifying the abundances of these species has been difficult because some molecules, such as formaldehyde (H2CO), and some ions, such as ammonium (NH4+), have poorly-known IR optical parameters, such as band strengths and optical constants. In the case of NH4+, the most widely used band-intensity values are from a mere two measurements published over a decade ago. Those two experiments cannot be repeated or checked as the original publication provided no information on reaction temperature, heating rate, spectral resolution, and so forth, and the two authors are no longer active in the field. Moreover, neither kinetic data nor statistics on the two measurements were provided, clearly an unsatisfactory situation. Exacerbating the problem is that NH4+ is sometimes used as a check on the IR spectral intensities of other ions, such as OCN- (cyanate), which has its own checkered past. We propose to correct these problems associated with abundance determinations of selected interstellar ices. We will combine two recent successful efforts from our laboratory and measure band intensities for NH4+ and OCN-, as well as HCOO- (formate). To unravel the interstellar formate band requires that we also properly determine its spectral baseline to distinguish from co-absorbing species, primarily formaldehyde (H2CO). Since the latter also has, at best, poorly-determined IR absolute intensities, we will measure them at multiple temperatures and ice phases for this project. This work will build on our recent success in deriving optical constants from IR spectra for interstellar hydrocarbon and nitrile ices (Hudson et al., 2014a, 2014b), and in generating NH4+ in situ for a study of Jupiter's atmosphere (Loeffler and Hudson, 2015). As a bonus, the proposed measurements also will enable the determination of band-strengths for such ions as CN-, NO3-, HS-, and ClO4-. High-quality IR intensities of neutral covalently-bonded ice molecules have been measured and published by our team. We now propose to make the transition to ions. More »

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