THE DIFFUSE INTERSTELLAR BANDS: A TRACER FOR ORGANICS IN THE DIFFUSE INTERSTELLAR MEDIUM?

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Abstract

The diffuse interstellar bands ({DIBs}) are absorption bands seen in the spectra of stars obscured by interstellar dust. DIBs are recognized as a tracer for free, organic molecules in the diffuse interstellar medium (ISM). The potential molecular carriers for the DIBs are discussed with an emphasis on neutral and ionized polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) for which the most focused effort has been made to date. From the combined astronomical, laboratory and theoretical study, it is concluded that a distribution of free neutral and ionized complex organics (PAHs, fullerenes, unsaturated hydrocarbons) represents the most promising class of candidates to account for the DIBs. The case for aromatic hydrocarbons appears particularly strong. The implied widespread distribution of complex organics in the diffuse ISM bears profound implications for our understanding of the chemical complexity of the ISM, the evolution of prebiotic molecules and its impact on the origin and the evolution of life on early Earth through the exogenous delivery (cometary encounters and metoritic bombardments) of prebiotic organics.

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