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U. P. Vijh (STScI)
In this dissertation talk, I will report on our study of interstellar dust through the process of photoluminescence (PL). We present the discovery of a new band of dust PL, blue luminescence (BL) with \lambdapeak~ 370 nm in the proto-planetary nebula known as the Red Rectangle (RR). We attribute this to fluorescence by small, 3-4-ringed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecules. Further analysis reveals additional independent evidence for the presence of small PAHs in this nebula. Detection of BL using long-slit spectroscopic observations in other ordinary reflection nebulae suggests that the BL carrier is an ubiquitous component of the ISM and is not restricted to the particular environment of the RR. We present the spatial distribution of the BL in these nebulae and find that the BL is spatially correlated with IR emission structures attributed to aromatic emission features (AEFs), attributed to PAHs.
The carrier of the dust-associated photoluminescence process causing the extended red emission (ERE), known now for over twenty five years, remains unidentified. We constrain the character of the ERE carrier by determining the wavelengths of the radiation that initiates the ERE -- \lambda < 118 nm. We note that under interstellar conditions most PAH molecules are ionized to the di-cation stage by photons with E > 10.5 eV and that the electronic energy level structure of PAH di-cations is consistent with fluorescence in the wavelength band of the ERE.
I will also present first results from ongoing work: Using narrow-band imaging, we present the optical detection of the circum-binary disk of the RR in the light of the BL, and show that the morphology of the BL and ERE emissions in the RR nebula are almost mutually exclusive. It is very suggestive to attribute them to different ionization stages of the same family of carriers such as PAH molecules.
Financial support for this study was provided through NSF Grant AST0307307 to The University of Toledo.
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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #4
© 2005. The American Astronomical Soceity.