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Experimental characterization of the energetics of low-temperature surface reactions

Abstract

Astrochemical reactions on the surfaces of dust grains, for instance, are thought to be responsible for the formation of complex organic molecules, which are of potential importance for the origin of life. In the situation where the chemical composition of dust surfaces is not precisely known, knowledge of the fundamental reaction properties gains significance. Here we describe an experimental technique that can be used to measure the energy released in reactions involving of a single pair of reactants. These data can be directly compared with the results of quantum chemical computations leading to unequivocal conclusions regarding the reaction pathways and the presence of energy barriers. It allows the prediction of the outcomes of astrochemical surface reactions with higher accuracy compared with that achieved based on gas-phase studies. However, for the highest accuracy, some understanding of the catalytic influence of specific surfaces on the reactions is required. The method was applied to study the reactions of C atoms with H2, O2 and C2H2. The formation of HCH, CO + O and triplet cyclic-C3H2 products has been revealed, correspondingly.

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Fig. 1: Schematic representation of the chemical reactions occurring inside He droplets.
Fig. 2: The measured depletion of the He droplet beam caused by exothermic reactions of fixed amount of C atoms as a function of the efficiency of doping of the He droplets with a second reactant.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful for the support by the Max Planck Society and the DFG (contract No. KR 3995/3-1).

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T.K.H. and S.A.K. designed the research and wrote the paper; S.A.K. performed research and analysed the data.

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Correspondence to Serge A. Krasnokutski.

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Henning, T.K., Krasnokutski, S.A. Experimental characterization of the energetics of low-temperature surface reactions. Nat Astron 3, 568–573 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0729-8

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