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Published December 20, 2020 | Published
Journal Article Open

Why Interstellar Ice Dust Grains Should Be Elongated


Models of interstellar dust alignment assume that dust grains are elongated, but none of these models explain why dust grains should be elongated. On the other hand, models of interstellar dust grain growth assume that dust grains are spherical and not elongated. We show that when dusty plasma effects and the dipole moment of water molecules are together taken into account, ice grains in interstellar space should be prolate ellipsoids and not spheres. Dusty plasma analysis shows that an ice grain is charged to a negative potential that has magnitude nearly equal to that of the electron temperature. Several different mechanisms causing deviation from sphericity are identified; these mechanisms involve the interaction of the dipole moment of water molecules with electric fields associated with ice grain charging. These mechanisms include the focusing of water molecule trajectories, the migration of water molecules in a quasi-liquid layer on the grain surface toward regions where the electric field is strongest, the enhancement of this migration by the bombardment of energetic protons that gain energy upon falling into the ice grain negative potential, and mutual repulsion by electric charges having the same sign. The aspect ratio is established shortly after the ice grain is formed, and then is maintained as the grain grows.

Additional Information

© 2020 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2020 August 25; revised 2020 October 12; accepted 2020 October 26; published 2020 December 17. Supported by the National Science Foundation/Department of Energy Partnership in Basic Plasma Science and Engineering via USDOE Award DE-SC0020079.

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