Effect of protonation on the UV/VUV photostability of cyano-substituted anthracene and phenanthrene

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Astronomy and Astrophysics


Context. The vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) photoprocessing of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) has been established as a key piece of the puzzle to understand the life cycle of carbon-based molecules in space. The recent detection of cyano (CN) aromatic species, with unexpectedly high abundance, motivated the current study of investigating their interaction with UV/VUV radiation. Aims. The aims were to investigate the fate, after VUV photoexcitatation, of medium-size (three rings) CN-PAH radical cations and of their protonated analogs, and thus to assess the effect of protonation on the photostability of the CN-PAHs. Photoproducts (ionic fragments and dications) were mass-analyzed and measured as a function of photon energy. The results were also compared with those for the bare anthracene radical cation to assess the influence of the added CN group. Methods. The positively charged CN-PAHs were stored in a quadrupole ion trap prior to interrogation by UV/VUV radiation, with photon energies between 4.5 and 13.6 eV, delivered by the DESIRS beamline from the synchrotron SOLEIL. Results. The HCN/HNC loss channel is present for both radical cations and protonated species, but H2 loss is only apparent for the radical cations. Based on comparison with quantum chemical calculations, radiative and/or collisional processes should be relevant at energies lower than 8 eV, with a stronger propensity for radical cation than protonated CN-PAHs. The cata-condensed 9-CN-anthracene has a nearly two-fold larger photoionization yield at 13.6 eV than peri-condensed 9-CN-phenanthrene. Conclusions. The photoionization yield of singly and doubly ionized CN-PAHs is greater for radical cations than for protonated analogs. The photoionization yields of CN-PAHs is diminished by protonation and, in the future, similar investigations should target larger protonated CN-PAHs to support a general model for the photo-processing of these relevant molecular systems. Similar processes to those for the bare PAH radical cations may involve the radical cations of CN-PAHs, making their addition important in models that describe the photoelectric heating of interstellar gas.

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