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Margaret Mead
Research Article

Organic Molecules in Translucent Interstellar Clouds


Absorption spectra of translucent interstellar clouds contain many known molecular bands of CN, CH+, CH, OH, OH+, NH, C2 and C3. Moreover, one can observe more than 400 unidentified absorption features, known as diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs), commonly believed to be carried by complex, carbon-bearing molecules. DIBs have been observed in extragalactic sources as well. High S/N spectra allow to determine precisely the corresponding column densities of the identified molecules, rotational temperatures which differ significantly from object to object in cases of centrosymmetric molecular species, and even the 12C/13C abundance ratio. Despite many laboratory based studies of possible DIB carriers, it has not been possible to unambiguously link these bands to specific species. An identification of DIBs would substantially contribute to our understanding of chemical processes in the diffuse interstellar medium. The presence of substructures inside DIB profiles supports the idea that DIBs are very likely features of gas phase molecules. So far only three out of more than 400 DIBs have been linked to specific molecules but none of these links was confirmed beyond doubt. A DIB identification clearly requires a close cooperation between observers and experimentalists. The review presents the state-of-the-art of the investigations of the chemistry of interstellar translucent clouds i.e. how far our observations are sufficient to allow some hints concerning the chemistry of, the most common in the Galaxy, translucent interstellar clouds, likely situated quite far from the sources of radiation (stars).