Revised Models of Interstellar Nitrogen Isotopic Fractionation
Journal article, 2018
Nitrogen-bearing molecules in cold molecular clouds exhibit a range of isotopic fractionation ratios and these molecules may be the precursors of 15N enrichments found in comets and meteorites. Chemical model calculations indicate that atom-molecular ion and ion-molecule reactions could account for most of the fractionation patterns observed. However, recent quantum-chemical computations demonstrate that several of the key processes are unlikely to occur in dense clouds. Related model calculations of dense cloud chemistry show that the revised 15N enrichments fail to match observed values. We have investigated the effects of these reaction rate modifications on the chemical model of Wirström et al. (2012) for which there are significant physical and chemical differences with respect to other models. We have included 15N fractionation of CN in neutral-neutral reactions and also updated rate coefficients for key reactions in the nitrogen chemistry. We find that the revised fractionation rates have the effect of suppressing 15N enrichment in ammonia at all times, while the depletion is even more pronounced, reaching 14N/15N ratios of >2000. Taking the updated nitrogen chemistry into account, no significant enrichment occurs in HCN or HNC, contrary to observational evidence in dark clouds and comets, although the 14N/15N ratio can still be below 100 in CN itself. However, such low CN abundances are predicted that the updated model falls short of explaining the bulk 15N enhancements observed in primitive materials. It is clear that alternative fractionating reactions are necessary to reproduce observations, so further laboratory and theoretical studies are urgently needed.