H2 formation on grain surfaces

S. Cazaux, A. G.G.M. Tielens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

256 Citations (Scopus)


The most abundant interstellar molecule, H2, is generally thought to form by recombination of H atoms on grain surfaces. On surfaces, hydrogen atoms can be physisorbed and chemisorbed and their mobility can be governed by quantum mechanical tunneling or thermal hopping. We have developed a model for molecular hydrogen formation on surfaces. This model solves the time-dependent kinetic rate equation for atomic and molecular hydrogen and their isotopes, taking the presence of physisorbed and chemisorbed sites, as well as quantum mechanical diffusion and thermal hopping, into account. The results show that the time evolution of this system is mainly governed by the binding energies and barriers against migration of the adsorbed species. We have compared the results of our model with experiments on the formation of HD on silicate and carbonaceous surfaces under irradiation by atomic H and D beams at low and at high temperatures. This comparison shows that including both isotopes, both physisorbed and chemisorbed wells, and both quantum mechanical tunneling and thermal hopping is essential for a correct interpretation of the experiments. This comparison allows us to derive the characteristics of these surfaces. For the two surfaces we consider, we determine the binding energy of H atoms and H2 molecules, as well as the barrier against diffusion for the H atoms to move from one site to another. We conclude that molecular hydrogen formation is efficient until quite high (∼500 K) temperatures. At low temperatures, recombination between mobile physisorbed atoms and trapped chemisorbed atoms dominates. At higher temperatures, chemisorbed atoms become mobile, and this then drives molecular hydrogen formation. We have extended our model to astrophysically relevant conditions. The results show that molecular hydrogen formation proceeds with near unity efficiency at low temperatures (T ≤ 20 K). While the efficiency drops, molecular hydrogen formation in the ISM can be very efficient even at high temperatures, depending on the physical characteristics of the surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-237
Number of pages16
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal: an international review of astronomy and astronomical physics
Issue number1 I
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2004

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