Variations in the Peak Position of the 6.2 μm Interstellar Emission Feature: A Tracer of N in the Interstellar Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Population
This paper presents the results of an investigation of the molecular characteristics that underlie the observed peak position and profile of the nominal 6.2 μm interstellar emission band generally attributed to the CC stretching vibrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). It begins with a summary of recent experimental and theoretical studies of the spectroscopic properties of large (>30 carbon atoms) PAH cations as they relate to this aspect of the astrophysical problem. It then continues with an examination of the spectroscopic properties of a number of PAH variants within the context of the interstellar 6.2 μm emission, beginning with a class of compounds known as polycyclic aromatic nitrogen heterocycles (PANHs; PAHs with one or more nitrogen atoms substituted into their carbon skeleton). In this regard, we summarize the results of recent relevant experimental studies involving a limited set of small PANHs and their cations and then report the results of a comprehensive computational study that extends that work to larger PANH cations including many nitrogen-substituted variants of coronene+ (C24H+12), ovalene+ (C32H+14), circumcoronene+ (C54H+18), and circum-circumcoronene+ (C96H+24). Finally, we report the results of more focused computational studies of selected representatives from a number of other classes of PAH variants that share one or more of the key attributes of the PANH species studied. These alternative classes of PAH variants include (1) oxygen- and silicon-substituted PAH cations; (2) PAH-metal ion complexes (metallocenes) involving the cosmically abundant elements magnesium and iron; and (3) large, asymmetric PAH cations. Overall, the studies reported here demonstrate that increasing PAH size alone is insufficient to account for the position of the shortest wavelength interstellar 6.2 μm emission bands, as had been suggested by earlier studies. On the other hand, this work reveals that substitution of one or more nitrogen atoms within the interior of the carbon skeleton of a PAH cation induces a significant blueshift in the position of the dominant CC stretching feature of these compounds that is sufficient to account for the position of the interstellar bands. Subsequent studies of the effects of substitution by other heteroatoms (O and Si), metal ion complexation (Fe+, Mg+, and Mg2+), and molecular symmetry variation-all of which fail to reproduce the blueshift observed in the PANH cations-indicate that N appears to be unique in its ability to accommodate the position of the interstellar 6.2 μm bands while simultaneously satisfying the other constraints of the astrophysical problem. This result implies that the peak position of the interstellar feature near 6.2 μm traces the degree of nitrogen substitution in the population, that most of the PAHs responsible for the interstellar IR emission features incorporate nitrogen within their aromatic networks, and that a lower limit of 1%-2% of the cosmic nitrogen is sequestered within the interstellar PAH population. Finally, in view of the ubiquity and abundance of interstellar PAHs and the permanent dipoles and distinctive electronic structures of these nitrogen-substituted variants, this work impacts a wide range of observational phenomena outside of the infrared region of the spectrum including the forest of unidentified molecular rotational features and the anomalous Galactic foreground emission in the microwave, and the diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs) and other structure in the interstellar extinction curve in the ultraviolet/visible. These astrophysical ramifications are discussed, and the dipole moments and rotational constants are tabulated to facilitate further investigations of the astrophysical role of nitrogen-substituted aromatic compounds.