Carbon chains and rings in the laboratory and in space
Seventy-seven reactive organic molecules of astrophysical interest have been identified in a supersonic molecular beam, 73 in the radio band by Fourier-transform microwave spectroscopy, four in the optical by laser cavity ringdown spectroscopy. Most are linear carbon chains, but six consist of carbon chains attached to the compact, highly polar C3 ring, and two are rhomboidal cyclic configurations of SiC3. The laboratory astrophysics of the radio molecules is complete for the time being, in the sense that essentially all the rotational transitions of current interest to radio astronomy (including hyperfine structure when present) can now be calculated to a small fraction of 1 km s-1 in equivalent radial velocity; six of the radio molecules have already been detected in space on the basis of the present data. The FTM spectrometer employed in this work is far from fundamental limits of sensitivity, so many more molecules can probably be found by refinements of present techniques. The density of reactive molecules in our supersonic beam is generally high by the standards of laser spectroscopy, and many of the radio molecules probably have detectable optical transitions which we are attempting to find, largely motivated by the long-standing problem of the diffuse interstellar bands. Our most interesting result to date is the detection of a fairly strong molecular band at 443 nm in a benzene discharge, in exact coincidence with the strongest and best known interstellar band. Isotopic shifts measured with partially and totally deuterated benzene suggest that the carrier of the laboratory band is a hydrocarbon molecule with the elemental formula CnH5, with n most likely in the range 3–6.