Nucleation of Small Silicon Carbide Dust Clusters in AGB Stars

1,4David Gobrecht, 1Sergio Cristallo, 1Luciano Piersanti, 2,3Stefan T. Bromley
The Astrophysical Journal 840, 2 Link to Article []
1Osservatorio Astronomico di Teramo, INAF, I-64100 Teramo, Italy
2Departament de Cincia de Materials i Química Fisica and Institut de Química Terica i Computacional (IQTCUB),Universitat de Barcelona, E-08028 Barcelona, Spain
3Institucio Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avancats (ICREA), E-08010 Barcelona, Spain
4Instituut voor Sterrenkunde, Celestijnenlaan 200 D, B-3001 Heverlee (Leuven), Belgium

Silicon carbide (SiC) grains are a major dust component in carbon-rich asymptotic giant branch stars. However, the formation pathways of these grains are not fully understood. We calculate ground states and energetically low-lying structures of (SiC) n , n = 1, 16 clusters by means of simulated annealing and Monte Carlo simulations of seed structures and subsequent quantum-mechanical calculations on the density functional level of theory. We derive the infrared (IR) spectra of these clusters and compare the IR signatures to observational and laboratory data. According to energetic considerations, we evaluate the viability of SiC cluster growth at several densities and temperatures, characterizing various locations and evolutionary states in circumstellar envelopes. We discover new, energetically low-lying structures for Si4C4, Si5C5, Si15C15, and Si16C16 and new ground states for Si10C10 and Si15C15. The clusters with carbon-segregated substructures tend to be more stable by 4–9 eV than their bulk-like isomers with alternating Si–C bonds. However, we find ground states with cage geometries resembling buckminsterfullerens (“bucky-like”) for Si12C12 and Si16C16 and low-lying stable cage structures for n ≥ 12. The latter findings thus indicate a regime of cluster sizes that differ from small clusters as well as from large-scale crystals. Thus—and owing to their stability and geometry—the latter clusters may mark a transition from a quantum-confined cluster regime to a crystalline, solid bulk-material. The calculated vibrational IR spectra of the ground-state SiC clusters show significant emission. They include the 10–13 μm wavelength range and the 11.3 μm feature inferred from laboratory measurements and observations, respectively, although the overall intensities are rather low.


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