AROMA Setup First Results

The AROMA Setup

In the framework of the Nanocosmos ERC synergy project, a new analytical experimental setup called AROMA (Astrochemistry Research of Organics with Molecular Analyzer) was developed. The main purpose of this setup is to study and identify, with micro-scale resolution, the molecular content of cosmic dust analogues, including the stardust analogues that will be produced in the Nanocosmos Stardust machine in Madrid. AROMA combines laser desorption/ionization (LDI) techniques with a linear ion trap coupled to an orthogonal time of flight mass spectrometer (LQIT-oTOF). A first paper “Identification of PAH Isomeric Structure in Cosmic Dust Analogues: the AROMA setup” has just been published in The Astrophysical Journal. This is the first time that two-step LDI is coupled to a linear ion trap with MS/MS capabilities. In MS/MS experiments ions are first stored in a trap and then are fragmented under the action of photon or collision activation. The resulting fragments are then detected by mass spectrometry providing information on the molecular structure of the parent species.

The article presents the performances of AROMA with its ability to detect with very high sensitivity aromatic species in complex materials of astrophysical interest and characterize their structures. A two-step LDI technique was used, in which desorption and ionization are achieved using two different lasers which are separated in time and space. The tests performed with pure polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) samples have shown a limit of detection of 100 femto-grams, which corresponds to 2×108 molecules in the case of coronene (C24H12). We detected a mixture of PAH small and medium-sized PAHs in the Murchison meteorite that contains a complex mixture of extraterrestrial organic compounds. In addition, collision induced dissociation experiments were performed on selected species detected in Murchison, which led to the first firm identification of pyrene (C16H10) and its methylated derivatives in this sample.

AROMA setup, being highly sensitive, selective, spatially resolved, and owing the MS/MS capabilities enables unique chemical characterization of aromatic species in cosmic dust analogues and extraterrestrial samples. Changing the ionization source will enlarge the scope of investigated chemical species. In the future, it will be used to analyze samples from the Stardust machine, other laboratory analogues and cosmic materials such as meteorites, and interplanetary dust particles. Currently, we are developing an imaging source that will allow us to analyze samples using LDI with micrometer spatial resolution.

More information:

This research was presented in the paper “Identification of PAH Isomeric Structure in Cosmic Dust Analogs: The AROMA Setup“, published in the Astrophysical Journal (APJ), 843:34 (8pp), 2017 July 1.  The authors are Hassan Sabbah (Université de Toulouse, UPS-OMP, Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP); CNRS, IRAP; LCAR, Université de Toulouse, UPS-IRSAMC, CNRS, France), Anthony Bonnamy (Université de Toulouse, UPS-OMP, IRAP; CNRS, IRAP, France), Dimitris Papanastasiou (Fasmatech Science + Technology, Greece), Jose Cernicharo (Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid (ICMM), CSIC, Spain), Jose-Angel Martín-Gago (ICMM-CSIC, Spain), and Christine Joblin (Université de Toulouse, UPS-OMP, IRAP; CNRS, IRAP, France).

What twirls around this star?

Image credits: Izan Leao (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil).
Image credits: Izan Leao (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil).

A Rotating Spiral Structure Around IRC+10216

Our cosmos is full of star dust, the ashes of stars that died and ejected their matter to the interstellar medium, filling it with dust and gas. When solar like stars consume the hydrogen in their cores, we say that their “main sequence” stage is finished and they begin their final phase. Because IRC+10216 is the high mass-loss star closest to us, it is the best studied evolved star and it seems to keep a secret: it is not alone.

As solar like stars evolve into the Asymptotic Giant Brach (AGB) phase, they eject large amounts of material into the interstellar medium, forming a circumstellar envelope around these objects. Thanks to the Atacama Large Millimeter /submillimeter Array (ALMA) we can now study the innermost regions of the circumstellar envelopes of those evolved stars with unprecedented precision and sensitivity.

IRC +10216 is the best studied evolved carbon-rich star. Located at an estimated distance of 424 light years, this AGB star is the high mass-loss star closest to us. This proximity has allowed the detection of a large number of molecules in its circumstellar envelope. These detections have in turn provided a deep and fruitful study of the chemical processes occurring in the ejected material of this star. The importance of these regions is fundamental since it covers the zone where the dust is formed and accelerated, and the dust grains trigger many chemical reactions.

But, after many studies from different research groups, one question remained unanswered: why was the gas shells irregularly distributed around the central star? In fact, the ejecta around it go from roughly spherical at the large scale, to relatively complex in the innermost regions.

There was a theory to explain the shape of the envelope of this evolved star.

Spiral structure, a companion star?

Understanding the structure of the circumstellar envelope and the molecular gas around this star is fundamental to reveal the chemical processes therein. For example, a clumpy structure may allow the UV radiation coming from the interstellar medium to reach the inner regions of the molecular gas and trigger chemical reactions.

Also the kinematics of these ejecta allows us to study the ejection process from the inner zones and to infer the mechanism involved: the data suggests that the matter released by the ejecta is slowly expanding and rotating.

As gas shells ejected by the evolved star are expected to be spherical, the irregular distribution around it, forming a spiral front, can be explained by the presence of a companion star.

Salts as tracers to confirm the companion star

Astrochemistry uses the data obtained by the different instruments to unveil the role of the different molecules in the chemical processes that take place in the Universe.

For instance, the emission from molecules such as CO and SiS has been found to show the spiral structure of IRC +10216 while that from radicals such as CN or C3H show that the abundance of these molecules is enhanced relatively far from the star. The shape of this distribution fits with the theory of a companion star.

In this work, the metal-bearing molecules were expected to probe the innermost regions of the circumstellar envelope around IRC +10216. The first author, Guillermo Quintana- Lacaci, says “Certain characteristics of the molecules affect to their emission, for instance Sodium Chloride (NaCl) and Potassium Chloride (KCl) provide much better contrast (dynamic range) to see weak structures in regions where other molecules as (Al)-bearing molecules can’t. In particular, NaCl confirms the presence of a face-on spiral extending to the innermost regions of IRC +10216 as well as it shows that this spiral structure is rotating.”

More observations with high angular and spectral resolution would allow the researchers to better constrain the characteristics of the structures detected here, but with this work, the presence of a star orbiting IRC+10216 becomes the explanation that fits the most with the rotating spiral structure seen around it.


More information:

The results of this work were published in the paper “HINTS OF A ROTATING SPIRAL STRUCTURE IN THE INNERMOST REGIONS AROUND IRC+10216”, by G. Quintana-Lacaci (Group of Molecular Astrophysics, ICMM, CSIC, Spain); J. Cernicharo (Group of Molecular Astrophysics, ICMM, CSIC, Spain); M. Agúndez (Group of Molecular Astrophysics, ICMM, CSIC, Spain); L. Velilla Prieto (Group of Molecular Astrophysics, ICMM, CSIC; Centro de Astrobiología, INTA-CSIC, Spain); A. Castro-Carrizo (Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique, France); N. Marcelino (INAF, Istituto di Radioastronomia, Italy); C. Cabezas (Grupo de Espectroscopía Molecular (GEM), Unidad asociada CSIC, Universidad de Valladolid (UVA), Spain); I. Peña (GEM, Unidad asociada CSIC, UVA, Spain); J. L. Alonso (GEM, Unidad asociada CSIC, UVA, Spain); J. Zúñiga (Dpto. de Química-Física, Faculdad de Química de la Universidad de Murcia, Spain); A. Requena (Dpto. de Química-Física, Faculdad de Química de la Universidad de Murcia, Spain); A. Bastida (Dpto. de Química-Física, Faculdad de Química de la Universidad de Murcia, Spain); Y. Kalugina (LOMC-UMR 6294, CNRS-Université du Havre, France; Department of Optics and Spectroscopy, Tomsk State University, Russia); F. Lique (LOMC-UMR 6294, CNRS-Université du Havre, France); and M. Guélin (Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique; LERMA, Observatoire de Paris, PSL Research University, CNRS, France).

Nanocosmos on the Spanish Newspapers


January and February are being good months for the NANOCOSMOS outreach on the hispanophone Mass Media. Many newspapers published last week an interview with José Cernicharo (one of the three Principal Investigators of the project). You can read one of them, published in “La Opinión, A Coruña”, in this link.

The interview has also been published in other regional newspapers as “La Nueva España”, “Levante (El Mercantil Valenciano)”, “Faro de Vigo”, “La Provincia, diario de Las Palmas” and “La Opinión de Tenerife”.

A summary of the ECLA2016


Last November took place in Madrid the II European Conference on Laboratory Astrophysics, ECLA2016 “Gas on the rocks”. NANOCOSMOS participated as one of the organizers. One of the activities developped was a Press Room, in order to produce communication and outreach materials available during and after the meeting.

You can see several video interviews to invited speakers and other participants in the youtube channel and also read the interviews with some of the experts that attended the meeting.

Youtube playlist of the ECLA2016
Press room of the ECLA2016

ECLA2016 conference ready to go!!

From next Monday 21 till Friday 25, the European Conference on Laboratory Astrophysics (ECLA2016 – Gas on the Rocks) will take place at the CSIC headquarters in Madrid. The opening act will be led by the president of CSIC, Emilio Lora-Tamayo, together with the Director of the Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid (ICMM-CSIC). Federico Soria, and José Cernicharo (SOC chair), Christine Joblin (SOC co-chair) and Isabel Tanarro (LOC chair).

More than 170 scientists worldwide (astrophysicists, physicists, chemists and engineers) will address the state of the art in laboratory astrophysics within the context of new exciting astrophysical data. In order to achieve a closer collaboration in the analysis and interpretation of astrophysical and laboratory data, nearly 80 talks and 90 posters will be presented at the conference.

A dedicated press room will be available at the conference webpage. Several scientists will be interviewed to show the general public how science can improve our current understanding on fundamental questions such as the formation of planetary systems and molecular complexity in Space as well as the interrelation between technological developments and top laboratory studies to address these fundamental questions.

Stay tuned!!