Although unidentified infrared bands (UIBs) have been observed in many astrophysical environments, there is one notable exception: carbon (C) stars. Only a handful of C stars have been shown to emit UIBs and most have hot companions. This makes C stars with hot companions an ideal location to investigate the emitters of the UIBs. PAHs are excited by absorption of single photons whose energy is then distributed over the whole molecule. These molecules then emit the energy at the characteristic wavelengths, but the precise wavelengths and strength ratios depend on the size, composition and charge state of the individual PAHs. Furthermore, the wavelength of photons needed to excite PAHs depends on their size and charge state. While small PAHs undoubtedly need higher energy (UV) photons, it has been suggested that large or ionized PAHS (>100 C atoms) can be excited by visible or even near-IR photons. The lack of PAH emission from single carbon stars suggests that either PAHs do not form around C stars or that only small neutral grains form, which cannot be excited by a C star's radiation field.
There are two competing formation mechanisms for PAHs around C stars: (1) “bottom-up” where acetylene molecules react to form aromatic rings, building up to PAHs; or (2) “top-down”, where small carbon grains react with H atoms and desorb PAHs
Using spatially resolved spectroscopic observations from Gemini/Michelle, of five carbon stars with hot companions, we investigate the circumstance under which PAH emission occurs and try to discriminate between formation mechanisms.