Aims. Molecular hydrogen is the most abundant molecule in the Universe. It is thought that a large portion of H-2 forms by association of hydrogen atoms to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). We model the influence of PAHs on total H-2 formation rates in photodissociation regions (PDRs) and assess the effect of these formation rates on the total cloud structure.
Methods. We set up a chemical kinetic model at steady state in a PDR environment and included radiative transfer to calculate the chemistry at different depths in the PDR. This model includes known dust grain chemistry for the formation of H-2 and a H-2 formation mechanism on PAHs. Since H-2 formation on PAHs is impeded by thermal barriers, this pathway is only efficient at higher temperatures (T > 200 K). At these temperatures the conventional route of H-2 formation via H atoms physisorbed on dust grains is no longer feasible, so the PAH mechanism enlarges the region where H-2 formation is possible.
Results. We find that PAHs have a significant influence on the structure of PDRs. The extinction at which the transition from atomic to molecular hydrogen occurs strongly depends on the presence of PAHs, especially for PDRs with a strong external radiation field. A sharp spatial transition between fully dehydrogenated PAHs on the outside of the cloud and normally hydrogenated PAHs on the inside is found. As a proof of concept, we use coronene to show that H-2 forms very efficiently on PAHs, and that this process can reproduce the high H-2 formation rates derived in several PDRs.
- ISM: molecules
- photon-dominated region (PDR)
- POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC-HYDROCARBONS
- ASTROPHYSICAL IMPLICATIONS