In-situ Probing of Radiation-induced Processing of Organics in Astrophysical Ice Analogs—Novel Laser Desorption Laser Ionization Time-of-flight Mass Spectroscopic Studies
Understanding the evolution of organic molecules in ice grains in the interstellar medium (ISM) under cosmic rays, stellar radiation, and local electrons and ions is critical to our understanding of the connection between ISM and solar systems. Our study is aimed at reaching this goal of looking directly into radiation-induced processing in these ice grains. We developed a two-color laser-desorption laser-ionization time-of-flight mass spectroscopic method (2C-MALDI-TOF), similar to matrix-assisted laser desorption and ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectroscopy. Results presented here with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) probe molecules embedded in water-ice at 5 K show for the first time that hydrogenation and oxygenation are the primary chemical reactions that occur in astrophysical ice analogs when subjected to Lyα radiation. We found that hydrogenation can occur over several unsaturated bonds and the product distribution corresponds to their stabilities. Multiple hydrogenation efficiency is found to be higher at higher temperatures (100 K) compared to 5 K—close to the interstellar ice temperatures. Hydroxylation is shown to have similar efficiencies at 5 K or 100 K, indicating that addition of O atoms or OH radicals to pre-ionized PAHs is a barrierless process. These studies—the first glimpses into interstellar ice chemistry through analog studies—show that once accreted onto ice grains PAHs lose their PAH spectroscopic signatures through radiation chemistry, which could be one of the reason for the lack of PAH detection in interstellar ice grains, particularly the outer regions of cold, dense clouds or the upper molecular layers of protoplanetary disks.