Iron and silicate dust growth in the Galactic interstellar medium: clues from element depletions


The interstellar abundances of refractory elements indicate a substantial depletion from the gas phase, that increases with gas density. Our recent model of dust evolution, based on hydrodynamic simulations of the lifecycle of giant molecular clouds (GMCs) proves that the observed trend for [Sigas_{gas}/H] is driven by a combination of dust growth by accretion in the cold diffuse interstellar medium (ISM) and efficient destruction by supernova (SN) shocks (Zhukovska et al. 2016). With an analytic model of dust evolution, we demonstrate that even with optimistic assumptions for the dust input from stars and without destruction of grains by SNe it is impossible to match the observed [Sigas_{gas}/H]nH-n_H relation without growth in the ISM. We extend the framework developed in our previous work for silicates to include the evolution of iron grains and address a long-standing conundrum: ``Where is the interstellar iron?'. Much higher depletion of Fe in the warm neutral medium compared to Si is reproduced by the models, in which a large fraction of interstellar iron (70%) is locked as inclusions in silicate grains, where it is protected from sputtering by SN shocks. The slope of the observed [Fegas_{gas}/H]nH-n_H relation is reproduced if the remaining depleted iron resides in a population of metallic iron nanoparticles with sizes in the range of 1-10nm. Enhanced collision rates due to the Coulomb focusing are important for both silicate and iron dust models to match the observed slopes of the relations between depletion and density and the magnitudes of depletion at high density.Comment: Accepted for publication in the ApJ, 15 pages, 9 figure

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