Interstellar Chemistry:  A Strategy for Detecting Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Space

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have long been postulated as constituents of the interstellar gas and circumstellar disks. Observational infrared emission spectra have been plausibly interpreted in support of this hypothesis, but the small (or zero) dipole moments of planar, unsubstituted PAHs preclude their definitive radio astronomical identification. Polar PAHs, such as corannulene, thus represent important targets for radio astronomy because they offer the possibilities of confirming the existence of PAHs in space and revealing new insight into the chemistry of the interstellar medium. Toward this objective, the high-resolution rotational spectrum of corannulene has been obtained by Fourier transform microwave spectroscopy, and the dipole moment (2.07 D) of this exceptionally polar PAH has been measured by exploiting the Stark effect.