The infrared spectrum of protonated buckminsterfullerene C60H+

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Although fullerenes have long been hypothesized to occur in interstellar environments, they have only recently been unambiguously identified through spectroscopy1,2,3,4. C60, C70 and C60+ now constitute the largest molecular species individually identified in the interstellar medium. Fullerenes have substantial proton affinities and it has been suggested that C60H+ is likely the most abundant interstellar analogue of C60 (ref. 5). We present here a laboratory infrared (IR) spectrum of gaseous C60H+. Symmetry breaking in C60H+ produces an IR spectrum that is much richer than that of C60. The experimental spectrum is used to benchmark theoretical spectra indicating that the B3LYP density functional with the 6-311+G(d,p) basis set accurately reproduces the spectrum. Comparison with IR emission spectra from two planetary nebulae, SMP LMC56 and SMC16, which have been associated with high C\({}_{60}\) abundances, indicates that C60H+ is a plausible contributor to their IR emission.

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Fig. 1: Structure of C60H+ and experimental aspects of recording its IRMPD spectrum.
Fig. 2: Experimental IRMPD spectrum of C60H+ compared with a Fourier transform IR absorption spectrum of a thin film of neutral C60 taken from ref. 25.
Fig. 3: The experimental IR spectrum of C60H+ compared with DFT computed spectra using different basis sets and functionals.
Fig. 4: Comparison of the C60H+ laboratory spectrum with emission spectra from two planetary nebulae.

Data availability

Selected machine-readable data files are available in the Supplementary Information, including the experimental and theoretical IR spectral data of C60H+ as xy-files. The experimental data that support the findings of this study are available in the Supplementary Information.


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We gratefully acknowledge the expert support by the FELIX staff. This work is supported by the European MCSA ITN network ’EUROPAH’ (grant no. 722346) and the Dutch Astrochemistry Network (DAN-II, grant no. 648.000.030) of NWO. For the computational work, we acknowledge support by NWO under the ’Rekentijd’ program (grant no. 17603) and the SurfSARA staff.

Author information

J.P., J.M. and G.B. carried out the experiments, which were conceptualized by J.O. and G.B.; J.P. and J.O. wrote the manuscript with input from all other authors.

Correspondence to Jos Oomens.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Astronomy thanks Jan Cami and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–4, Table 1 and Data 1–4 captions.

Supplementary Data 1

The IRMPD spectrum of C60H+.

Supplementary Data 2

Calculated IR spectrum for the exohedral C60H+ geometry at the B3LYP/6-311+G(d,p) level of theory.

Supplementary Data 3

Calculated IR spectrum for the endohedral C60H+ geometry at the B3LYP/6-311+G(d,p) level of theory.

Supplementary Data 4

Optimized geometry of C60H+ at the B3LYP/6-311+G(d,p) level of theory.

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Palotás, J., Martens, J., Berden, G. et al. The infrared spectrum of protonated buckminsterfullerene C60H+. Nat Astron (2019) doi:10.1038/s41550-019-0941-6

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