Are molecule-covered dust grains efficient catalysts of H 2 formation in the cold ISM?

L. Gavilan, J. L. Lemaire, G. Vidali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The formation of H 2 in the interstellar medium (ISM) involves complex processes, some of which are still not understood. In cold regions, it is assumed that H 2 formation follows Langmuir kinetics, i.e. the immediate desorption of incoming atoms or molecules on a surface already saturated with molecules. Our experiments address this issue by studying the formation of H 2 on a dust surface dosed with molecules prior to atomic exposure. We simulate ISM conditions at T dust < 10K and T gas ~ 90K and use a synthesized amorphous silicate. By coupling laser detection to thermal desorption spectroscopy, we confirm that hydrogen recombination is promptly enhanced. We interpret this as a result of enhanced atomic diffusion (both hopping thermal and quantum mechanical tunnelling). Moreover, since H 2 formation is the most exothermic chemical reaction per unit mass, we elucidate its importance as a non-thermal desorption mechanism. We apply these results to dense ISM regions where H 2 formation and its induced desorption are curbed by a declining atomic gas-phase abundance. We further propose this as a pathway to deuterium fractionation in pre-stellar cores. More importantly, we show that dust remains an active catalyst even in the coldest ISM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2961-2970
Number of pages10
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 21 2012


  • Astrochemistry
  • ISM: atoms
  • ISM: molecules
  • Methods: laboratory
  • Molecular processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Are molecule-covered dust grains efficient catalysts of H <sub>2</sub> formation in the cold ISM?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this