Rapid ortho-to-para nuclear spin conversion of H2 on a silicate dust surface

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Masashi Tsuge, Toshinobu Namiyoshi, Kenji Furuya, Tomoya Yamazaki, Akira Kouchi, Naoki Watanabe

The H2 molecule has two nuclear spin isomers, the so-called ortho and para isomers. Nuclear spin conversion (NSC) between these states is forbidden in the gas phase. The energy difference between the lowest ortho and para states is as large as 14.7 meV, corresponding to ~170 K. Therefore, each state of H2 differently affects not only the chemistry but also the macroscopic gas dynamics in space, and thus, the ortho-to-para abundance ratio (OPR) of H2 has significant impacts on various astronomical phenomena. For a long time, the OPR of nascent H2 upon formation on dust grains has been assumed to have a statistical value of three and to gradually equilibrate in the gas phase at the temperature of the circumstances. Recently, NSC of H2 was experimentally revealed to occur on water ice at very low temperatures and thus incorporated into gas-dust chemical models. However, H2 molecules should form well before dust grains are coated by water ice. Information about how the OPR of H2 behaves on bare silicate dust before ice-mantle formation is lacking. Knowing the influence of the OPR of H2 if the OPR changes even on a bare silicate surface within an astronomically meaningful time scale is desirable. We report the first laboratory measurements of NSC of H2 physisorbed on amorphous silicate (Mg2SiO4) at temperatures up to 18 K. The conversion was found to occur very rapidly.


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