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Astron. Astrophys. 357, 1013-1019 (2000)

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The C-C-C bending modes of PAHs: a new emission plateau from 15 to 20 [FORMULA]

C. Van Kerckhoven 1, S. Hony 2, E. Peeters 3,4, A.G.G.M. Tielens 4,3, L.J. Allamandola 5, D.M. Hudgins 5, P. Cox 6, P.R. Roelfsema 3, R.H.M. Voors 7, C. Waelkens 1, L.B.F.M. Waters 2,1 and P.R. Wesselius 3

1 Instituut voor Sterrenkunde, K.U. Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200B, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium
2 Astronomical Institute "Anton Pannekoek", Kruislaan 403, 1098 SJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
3 SRON, P.O. Box 800, 9700 AV Groningen, The Netherlands
4 Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, P.O. Box 800, 9700 AV Groningen, The Netherlands
5 NASA-Ames Research Center, Space Science Division, MS: 245-6, Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000, USA
6 Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris XI, 91405 Orsay, France
7 Sterrenkundig Instituut, Universiteit Utrecht, Princetonplein 5, 3584 CA Utrecht, The Netherlands

Received 5 November 1999 / Accepted 17 March 2000


We have obtained 2.5-45 µm spectra of a sample of compact H II regions, YSOs and evolved stars in order to study the origin and evolution of interstellar Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon molecules (PAHs). Besides the well-known, strong PAH bands at 3.3, 6.2, 7.7, 8.6, and 11.2 µm, these spectra reveal for the first time, a ubiquitous emission plateau from 15 to 20 µm. While the overall shape of this plateau is very similar in all sources, the detailed profiles vary from source to source. In particular, some sources show a distinct emission feature at 16.4 µm. Moreover, the integrated intensity of this plateau varies relative to the PAH emission features by a factor 10 in our sample.

We attribute this 15-20 µm plateau to a blend of many emission features due to the interstellar or circumstellar PAH family present in these sources. Laboratory studies and quantum chemical calculations show that PAH molecules invariably possess emission features in this wavelength region, arising from C-C-C bending modes which cause in- and out-of-plane distortion of the carbon skeleton. These modes are very sensitive to the molecular structure of the specific PAHs present and hence different molecules emit at different wavelengths. Analysis of the available data on the IR characteristics of PAHs show that a collection of PAHs will give rise to a broad plateau in this region.

We have analyzed the size distribution of PAHs giving rise to the IR emission spectra of the sources in our samples. While much of the 15-20 µm plateau is thought to arise in relatively large PAHs and PAH clusters, we attribute the 16.4 µm feature to the small end of the interstellar PAH size distribution. We conclude that the observed increased strength of the 15-20 µm plateau relative to the shorter wavelength IR emission features in regions of massive star formation is caused by a preponderance of larger PAHs and PAH clusters in those sources. Possibly this reflects the importance of coagulation in the dense molecular cloud environment from which these stars are formed.

Key words: ISM: molecules – ISM: dust, extinction – ISM: H ii regions – ISM: planetary nebulae: general – stars: pre-main sequence – infrared: ISM: lines and bands

Send offprint requests to: C. Van Kerckhoven (caroline@ster.kuleuven.ac.be)

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: June 5, 2000