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Carbon monoxide frosts in the interstellar medium

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The presence of solid carbon monoxide (CO) on interstellar grains was confirmed observationally in 1984 with the detection of infrared absorption at 4.67μm wavelength in several molecular clouds. Subsequent observations suggest that solid CO is ubiquitous in the quiescent molecular cloud environment. In some lines of sight, the degree of frosting on to grains is sufficient to reduce appreciably the abundance of CO remaining in the gas, a result of considerable astrophysical significance: in addition to its importance as a tracer of molecular material, CO is vital to the production of many polyatomic molecules by gas phase reaction schemes, and its depletion could have a dramatic effect on the abundances of more complex carbon-bearing molecules. The infrared spectrum of solid CO provides an important diagnostic of the chemical composition and thermal evolution of grain mantles, leading to the prediction that CO2 is also present in solid form.

As it is now some six years since observations of interstellar solid CO were first reported, this is an appropriate time to review the topic and to suggest some directions for future research. The introduction (Sect. 1) attempts to place the subject in its broader astrophysical context. The infrared observations and their implications are discussed in detail in Sect. 2. The question of the degree of CO depletion implied by the observations of both solid state and gas phase CO is re-examined in Sect. 3. We assess the possibility of CO detection by means of solid state absorption or luminescence in the ultraviolet in Sect. 4. Future prospects are summarised in the final section.

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Correspondence to D. C. B. Whittet.

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Whittet, D.C.B., Duley, W.W. Carbon monoxide frosts in the interstellar medium. The Astron Astrophys Rev 2, 167–189 (1991).

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Key words

  • Interstellar dust
  • grain mantles
  • CO abundance