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Published April 2020 | Accepted Version + Published
Journal Article Open

Probing UV-sensitive Pathways for CN and HCN Formation in Protoplanetary Disks with the Hubble Space Telescope


The UV radiation field is a critical regulator of gas-phase chemistry in surface layers of disks around young stars. In an effort to understand the relationship between photocatalyzing UV radiation fields and gas emission observed at infrared and submillimeter wavelengths, we present an analysis of new and archival Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Spitzer, ALMA, IRAM, and SMA data for five targets in the Lupus cloud complex and 14 systems in Taurus-Auriga. The HST spectra were used to measure Lyα and far-UV (FUV) continuum fluxes reaching the disk surface, which are responsible for dissociating relevant molecular species (e.g., HCN, N₂). Semi-forbidden C II] λ2325 and UV-fluorescent H₂ emission were also measured to constrain inner disk populations of C⁺ and vibrationally excited H2. We find a significant positive correlation between 14 μm HCN emission and fluxes from the FUV continuum and C II] λ2325, consistent with model predictions requiring N₂ photodissociation and carbon ionization to trigger the main CN/HCN formation pathways. We also report significant negative correlations between submillimeter CN emission and both C II] and FUV continuum fluxes, implying that CN is also more readily dissociated in disks with stronger FUV irradiation. No clear relationships are detected between either CN or HCN and Lyα or UV-H₂ emission. This is attributed to the spatial stratification of the various molecular species, which span several vertical layers and radii across the inner and outer disk. We expect that future observations with the James Webb Space Telescope will build on this work by enabling more sensitive IR surveys than were possible with Spitzer.

Additional Information

© 2020 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2019 November 15; revised 2020 February 17; accepted 2020 February 19; published 2020 March 23. We are thankful to the referee for thoughtful comments that helped strengthen the analysis presented here. N.A. is supported by NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship grant 80NSSC17K0531 and HST-GO-14604 (PIs: C.F. Manara, P.C. Schneider). H.M.G. was supported by program HST-GO-15204.001, which was provided by NASA through a grant from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Associations of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Incorporated, under NASA contract NAS5-26 555. We are grateful to M.K. McClure and C. Walsh for helpful discussions regarding the analysis presented here. This paper makes use of the following ALMA data: ADS/JAO.ALMA#2013.1.00220.S. ALMA is a partnership of ESO (representing its member states), NSF (USA) and NINS (Japan), together with NRC (Canada), MOST and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by ESO, AUI/NRAO, and NAOJ. This work utilized the RMACC Summit supercomputer, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (awards ACI-1532235 and ACI-1532236), the University of Colorado Boulder, and Colorado State University. The Summit supercomputer is a joint effort of the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University. This research made use of Astropy,10 a community-developed core Python package for Astronomy (Astropy Collaboration et al. 2013; The Astropy Collaboration et al. 2018).

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Accepted Version - 2002.09058.pdf

Published - Arulanantham_2020_AJ_159_168.pdf


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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023