Thanks to their acid-bases features, silicate surfaces can efficiently activate the chemical bonds of HCN and favor the formation of nucleophilic CN- species, hence triggering the prebiotic polymerization of HCN to nucleobases in astronomical environments.

Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) represents a small but widely distributed fraction of the interstellar molecules, and it has been observed in all the environments characterizing the formation of a new planetary system. HCN can polymerize to form biomolecules, including adenine (H5C5N5), and it has drawn attention as a possible precursor of several building blocks of life due to the presence of its polymerization products in meteorites, comets and other asteroidal bodies. To elucidate the potential catalytic role that cosmic silicates have played in these processes, we have investigated, at DFT-PBE level inclusive of a posteriori dispersion correction, the energetic and spectroscopic features of the adsorption of HCN molecules on the most relevant crystalline surfaces of the mineral forsterite (Mg2SiO4), a common silicate constituent of the interstellar core grains and planetary rocky bodies. The results reveal that HCN adsorbs both in molecular and dissociative ways, within a wide range of adsorption energies (-29.4 to -466.4 kJ/mol). For the dissociative adsorption, thermodynamic and kinetic results show these systems to be dominant already at low temperatures, a fact particularly relevant at the protoplanetary conditions (i.e., the latest stages in the star system formation process). The simulated spectroscopic features of the studied adducts show a wide range of different degrees of perturbation of C-H and C≡N bonds. This agrees with previous experimental works, and our results confirm that a complex chemistry is observed when this astrochemically-relevant molecule interacts with Mg2SiO4, which may be associated with a considerable potential reactivity towards the formation of relevant prebiotic compounds.

This work has been published in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

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