Detecting chiral asymmetry in the interstellar medium using propylene oxide
Journal article, 2022

Context. Life is distinctly homochiral. The origins of this homochirality are under active debate. Recently, propylene oxide has been detected in the gas-phase interstellar medium (ISM). The enantiomeric composition of ISM propylene oxide may be probed through circular polarization measurements, but accurate estimates of the circular dichroism properties of the microwave transitions of propylene oxide are not available. Aims. Our aim is to develop a model of the circular dichroic activity in torsion-rotation transitions of closed-shell chiral molecules such as propylene oxide. With this model we can estimate the viability, and optimize the observation strategies, of enantiomeric excess detection in ISM propylene oxide. Methods. Circular dichroism in spectral lines manifests through the simultaneous interaction of an electromagnetic radiation field with the molecular electric dipole moment and magnetic dipole moment. We developed techniques to quantify electric dipole and magnetic dipole moments of torsion-rotation transitions by expanding on earlier modeling of the electric and magnetic dipole properties of single torsion-rotation levels. To model the circular dichroism properties of propylene oxide, we used these techniques in combination with ab initio quantum chemical calculations. Results. The expressions for the dichroic activity of the microwave transitions of torsionally active molecules are derived. We find that the torsional motion of molecules exhibiting internal rotation contributes significantly to the total magnetic moment. We present estimates for the dichroic activity of the torsion-rotation transitions of propylene oxide. We predict that the circular polarization fractions of emission lines of enantiopure propylene oxide relevant to astronomical detections are on the order of 10(-6). Conclusions. Due to the low predicted circular polarization fractions, we conclude that enantiomeric characterization of propylene oxide in the gas phase of the ISM is impossible with the current astronomical observation techniques. We suggest that only chiral radical species may be viably employed for purposes of enantiomeric excess detection. We estimate that laboratory experiments may be successful in detecting the enantiomeric composition of a mixture of propylene oxide through microwave dichroism spectroscopy.



molecular data




Boy Lankhaar

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Astronomy and Plasmaphysics

Astronomy and Astrophysics

0004-6361 (ISSN) 1432-0746 (eISSN)

Vol. 666 A126

A polarized view on stars, planets and life

Swedish Research Council (VR) (2021-00339), 2021-07-01 -- 2024-06-30.

Subject Categories

Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology

Atom and Molecular Physics and Optics

Condensed Matter Physics



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