Institution(s): 1. University of Hawaii
An understanding of the formation of key classes of complex organic molecules (COMs) within interstellar ices is of core value to the laboratory astrophysics community with structural isomers – molecules with the same molecular formula but different connectivities of atoms – serving as a molecular clock and tracers in defining the evolutionary stage of cold molecular clouds and star forming regions. Here, the lack of data on products, branching ratios, and rate constants of their formation and how they depend on the ice temperature and composition limits the understanding how COMs are synthesized. Classically, infrared spectroscopy combined with mass spectrometry of the irradiated and subliming ices have been exploited for the last decades, but the usefulness of these methods has reached the limits when it comes to the identification of CMS in those ices. Here, infrared spectroscopy can only untangle the functional groups of COMs; mass spectrometry coupled with electron impact ionization cannot discriminate structural isomers and suffers from extensive fragmentation. This talk presents a novel approach to elucidate the formation of COMs by exploiting – besides classical infrared, Raman, and ultraviolet-visual spectroscopy - reflectron time-of-flight mass spectrometry (ReTOF) coupled with tunable vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) soft photoionization (ReTOF-PI). This technique has the unique power to identify the molecules based on a cross correlation of their mass-to-charge ratios, their ionization energies (IE), and their sublimation temperatures ultimately unraveling an inventory of individual COMs molecules formed upon interaction of ionizing radiation with interstellar analog ices.