The shape and composition of interstellar silicate grains

Ciska Kemper, M. Min, L. B F M Waters, A. De Koter, J. W. Hovenier, L. P. Keller, F. Markwick-Kemper

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    We investigate the composition and shape distribution of silicate dust grains in the interstellar medium. The effects of the amount of magnesium and iron in the silicate lattice are studied in detail. We fit the spectral shape of the interstellar 10 μm extinction feature as observed towards the galactic center using various particle shapes and dust materials. We use very irregularly shaped coated and non-coated porous Gaussian Random Field particles as well as a statistical approach to model shape effects. For the dust materials we use amorphous and crystalline silicates with various composition as well as silicon carbide (SiC). The results of our analysis of the 10 μm feature are used to compute the shape of the 20 μm silicate feature and to compare this with observations of this feature towards the galactic center. By using realistic particle shapes to fit the interstellar extinction spectrum we are, for the first time, able to derive the magnesium fraction in interstellar silicates. We find that the interstellar silicates are highly magnesium rich (Mg/(Fe + Mg) > 0.9) and that the stoichiometry lies between pyroxene and olivine type silicates (O/Si ≈ 3.5). This composition is not consistent with that of the glassy material found in GEMS in interplanetary dust particles indicating that the amorphous silicates found in the Solar system are, in general, not unprocessed remnants from the interstellar medium. Also, we find that a significant fraction of silicon carbide (∼3%) is present in the interstellar dust grains. We discuss the implications of our results for the formation and evolutionary history of cometary and circumstellar dust. We argue that the fact that crystalline silicates in cometary and circumstellar grains are almost purely magnesium silicates is a natural consequence of our findings that the amorphous silicates from which they were formed were already magnesium rich. © ESO 2007.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)667-676
    Number of pages9
    JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007


    • Dust, extinction
    • Infrared: ISM


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