The Distribution and Chemistry of H2CO in the DM Tau Protoplanetary Disk
Loomis et al
H2CO ice on dust grains is an important precursor of complex organic molecules (COMs). H2CO gas can be readily observed in protoplanetary disks and may be used to trace COM chemistry. However, its utility as a COM probe is currently limited by a lack of constraints on the relative contributions of two different formation pathways: on icy grain-surfaces and in the gas-phase. We use archival ALMA observations of the resolved distribution of H2CO emission in the disk around the young low-mass star DM Tau to assess the relative importance of these formation routes. The observed H2CO emission has a centrally peaked and radially broad brightness profile (extending out to 500 AU). We compare these observations with disk chemistry models with and without grain-surface formation reactions, and find that both gas and grain-surface chemistry are necessary to explain the spatial distribution of the emission. Gas-phase H2CO production is responsible for the observed central peak, while grain-surface chemistry is required to reproduce the emission exterior to the CO snowline (where H2CO mainly forms through the hydrogenation of CO ice before being non-thermally desorbed). These observations demonstrate that both gas and grain-surface pathways contribute to the observed H2CO in disks, and that their relative contributions depend strongly on distance from the host star.