Solid-state computational simulations reveal that aggregation of nanosized proto-silicates can result with the formation of silicates that present physico-chemical features of those present in the diffuse interstellar medium.

The issue of formation of dust grains in the interstellar medium is still a matter of debate. One of the most developed proposals suggests that atomic and heteromolecular seeds bind together to initiate a nucleation process leading to the formation of nanostructures resembling very small grain components. In the case of silicates, nucleated systems can result in molecular nanoclusters with diameters ≤ 2 nm. A reasonable path to further increase the size of these proto-silicate nanoclusters is by mutual aggregation. The present work deals with modeling this proto-silicate nanocluster aggregation process by means of quantum chemical density functional theory calculations. We simulate nanocluster aggregation by progressively reducing the size of a periodic array of initially well-separated nanoclusters. The resulting aggregation leads to a set of silicate bulk structures with gradually increasing density which we analyze with respect to structure, energetics and spectroscopic properties. Our results indicate that aggregation is a highly energetically favorable process, in which the infrared spectra of the finally formed amorphous silicates match well with astronomical observations.

This work has been published in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Link to the article as open access in Front. Astron. Space Sci.: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fspas.2021.659494/full