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Laboratory-based sticking coefficients for ices on a variety of small-grain analogues


Abundances and the partitioning between ices and gases in gas–grain chemistry are governed by adsorption and desorption on grains. Understanding of astrophysical observations relies on laboratory measurements of adsorption and desorption rates on dust grains analogues. On flat surfaces, gas adsorption probabilities (or sticking coefficients) have been found to be close to unity for most gases1,2,3. Here we report a strong decrease in the sticking coefficients of H2O and CO2 on substrates more akin to cosmic dust, such as submicrometre-sized particles of carbon and olivine, bare or covered with ice. This effect results from the local curvature of the grains, and then extends to larger grains made of aggregated small particles, such as fluffy or porous dust in more evolved media (for example, circumstellar disks). The main astrophysical implication is that accretion rates of gases are reduced accordingly, slowing the growth of cosmic ices. Furthermore, volatile species that are not adsorbed on a grain at their freeze-out temperature will persist in the gas phase, which will impact gas–ice partitions. We also found that thermal desorption of H2O is not modified by grain size, and thus the temperature of snowlines should be independent of the dust size distribution.

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Fig. 1: Selected electron microscopy images of the substrates.
Fig. 2: Sticking coefficients of H2O and CO2 at 20 K as a function of the substrate size for different substrates.
Fig. 3: Sticking coefficients of CO2 on H2O ice at 20 K as a function of the substrate size for different substrates.

Data availability

A text version of Table 1 is available at All of the datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank I. Marhaba for her help during the preliminary XPS experiments, and F.-X. Ouf for providing the MiniCAST samples.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.L. and P.P. conceived, performed, analysed and interpreted the XPS experiments. O.G. provided and prepared most of the samples, and carried out the X-ray diffraction experiments. D.F. and O.G. performed and analysed the scanning and transmission electron microscopy images. P.P. wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed ideas to this Letter.

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Correspondence to P. Parent.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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

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Supplementary Information 1–5, Figs. 1–5 and references.

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Laffon, C., Ferry, D., Grauby, O. et al. Laboratory-based sticking coefficients for ices on a variety of small-grain analogues. Nat Astron 5, 445–450 (2021).

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