Reflectance spectroscopy (350-2500 nm) of solid-state polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

M. R.M. Izawa, D. M. Applin, L. Norman, E. A. Cloutis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic compounds based on fused aromatic rings, and are formed in a variety of astrophysical, solar nebula and planetary processes. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are known or suspected to occur in a wide variety of planetary settings including icy satellites, Titan's hazes, carbonaceous meteorites, comet nuclei, ring particles; and terrestrial organic-rich lithologies such as coals, asphaltites, and bituminous sands. Relatively few measurements of the visible and near-infrared spectra of PAHs exist, yet this wavelength region (350-2500 nm) is widely used for remote sensing. This study presents detailed analyses of the 350-2500 nm reflectance spectra of 47 fine-grained powders of different high-purity solid-state PAHs. Spectral properties of PAHs change with variations in the number and connectivity of linked aromatic rings and the presence and type of side-groups and heterocycles. PAH spectra are characterized by three strong features near ~880 nm, ~1145 nm, and ~1687 nm due to overtones of νCH fundamental stretching vibrations. Some PAHs are amenable to remote detection due to the presence of diagnostic spectral features, including: NH stretching overtones at 1490-1515 nm in NH- and NH2-bearing PAHs, aliphatic or saturated bond CH overtone vibrations at ~1180-1280 nm and ~1700-1860 nm; a broad asymmetric feature between ~1450 nm and ~1900 nm due to OH stretching overtones in aromatic alcohols, CH and CO combinations near ~2000-2010 nm and ~2060-2270 nm in acetyl and carboxyl-bearing PAHs. Other substituents such as sulphonyl, thioether ether and carboxyl heterocycles, or cyano, nitrate, and aromatic side groups, do not produce well-resolved diagnostic spectral features but do cause shifts in the positions of the aromatic CH vibrational overtone features. Fluorescence is commonly suppressed by the presence of heterocycles, side-groups and in many non-alternant PAHs. The spectral characteristics of PAHs offer the potential, under suitable circumstances, for remote characterization of the classes of PAH present and in some cases, identification of particular heterocyclic or side-group substituents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-181
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Asteroids, composition
  • Comets, composition
  • Organic chemistry
  • Satellites, composition
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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