Widespread CCH and c-C3H2 in the Helix Nebula: Unraveling the Chemical History of Hydrocarbons

D. R. Schmidt, L. N. Zack, L. M. Ziurys

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15 Scopus citations


The hydrocarbons CCH and c-C3H2 have been detected at multiple positions distributed across the Helix, along with the CN, indicating that these molecules are present throughout this very old planetary nebula. The species were identified by observations of the N = 1 → 0 transitions of CCH and CN and the J = 21,2 → 10,1 transition of c-C3H2, conducted with the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) prototype 12 m antenna of the Arizona Radio Observatory at 3 mm in wavelength. Column densities of the three species were calculated to be N tot(CCH) ∼ (0.8-6.6) 1012 cm-2, N tot(c-C3H2) ∼ (0.3-5.9) 1011 cm-2, and N tot(CN) ∼ (0.7-7.4) 1012 cm-2, corresponding to fractional abundances, with respect to H2, of f(CCH) ∼ (1.1-8.8) 10-7, f(c-C3H2) ∼ (0.4-7.9) 10-8, and f(CN) ∼ (0.9-9.9) 10-7. Surprisingly, the abundances are comparable to those measured in younger planetary nebulae (PNe), indicating that predicted photodestruction processes for gas-phase molecules are inefficient in these objects, even over long timescales. The distributions of these two hydrocarbons in the Helix appear to be correlated, with a ratio of [CCH]/[c-C3H2] ∼ 5-80 and an average value of 29 6 - remarkably similar to both the range ([CCH]/[c-C3H2] ∼ 11-53) and average value (28.2 1.4) found in diffuse clouds. The abundances of CCH, c-C3H2, and CN in the Helix are also factors of 10-100 greater than those measured in diffuse gas. These results suggest that molecular ejecta from PNe are a possible external source for polyatomic species found in diffuse clouds, including C60.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL31
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 10 2018


  • ISM: molecules
  • astrochemistry
  • planetary nebulae: individual (NGC 7293)
  • radio lines: ISM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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