HACA's Heritage: A Free-Radical Pathway to Phenanthrene in Circumstellar Envelopes of Asymptotic Giant Branch Stars

Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2017 Apr 10;56(16):4515-4519. doi: 10.1002/anie.201701259. Epub 2017 Mar 22.


The hydrogen-abstraction/acetylene-addition (HACA) mechanism has been central for the last decades in attempting to rationalize the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as detected in carbonaceous meteorites such as in Murchison. Nevertheless, the basic reaction mechanisms leading to the formation of even the simplest tricyclic PAHs like anthracene and phenanthrene are still elusive. Here, by exploring the previously unknown chemistry of the ortho-biphenylyl radical with acetylene, we deliver compelling evidence on the efficient synthesis of phenanthrene in carbon-rich circumstellar environments. However, the lack of formation of the anthracene isomer implies that HACA alone cannot be responsible for the formation of PAHs in extreme environments. Considering the overall picture, alternative pathways such as vinylacetylene-mediated reactions are required to play a crucial role in the synthesis of complex PAHs in circumstellar envelopes of dying carbon-rich stars.

Keywords: circumstellar envelopes; gas phase chemistry; hydrogen-abstraction/acetylene-addition (HACA); mass spectrometry; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.