A New “Non-energetic” Route to Complex Organic Molecules in Astrophysical Environments: The C + H2O → H2CO Solid-state Reaction

Alexey Potapov, Serge A. Krasnokutski, Cornelia Jäger, and Thomas Henning

The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 920, Number 2

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“The solid-state reaction C + H2O → H2CO was studied experimentally following the co-deposition of C atoms and H2O molecules at low temperatures. In spite of the reaction barrier and absence of energetic triggering, the reaction proceeds fast on the experimental timescale pointing to its quantum tunneling mechanism. This route to formaldehyde shows a new “non-energetic” pathway to complex organic and prebiotic molecules in astrophysical environments. Energetic processing by UV irradiation of the ice produced by co-deposition of C and H2O reactants leads mainly to the destruction of H2CO and the formation of CO2, challenging the role of energetic processing in the synthesis of complex organic molecules under astrophysically relevant conditions.”