Silicon Nanoparticles: Source of Extended Red Emission?

Witt, Adolf N., Gordon, Karl D., & Furton, Douglas G.
1998, The Astrophysical Journal, 501, L111


We have reviewed the characteristics of the extended red emission (ERE) as observed in many dusty astronomical environments, in particular, the diffuse interstellar medium of the Galaxy. The spectral nature and the photon conversion efficiency of the ERE identify the underlying process as highly efficient photoluminescence by an abundant component of interstellar dust. We have compared the photoluminescence properties of a variety of carbon- and silicon-based materials proposed as sources for the ERE with the observationally established constraints. We found that silicon nanoparticles provide the best match to the spectrum and to the efficiency requirement of the ERE. If present in interstellar space with an abundance sufficient to explain the intensity of the ERE, silicon nanoparticles will also contribute to the interstellar 9.7 μm Si--O stretch feature in absorption, to the near- and mid-IR nonequilibrium thermal background radiation, and to the continuum extinction in the near- and far-UV. About 36% of the interstellar silicon that is depleted into the dust phase would be needed in the form of silicon nanoparticles, amounting to less than 5% of the interstellar dust mass. We propose that silicon nanoparticles form through the nucleation of SiO in oxygen-rich stellar mass outflows and that they represent an important small-grain component of the interstellar dust spectrum.

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