Presentation #321.02 in the session Laboratory Astrophysics (LAD) Division Meeting: A Universe of Carbon I.
A large fraction of the Carbon in the Universe (15%) is locked up in large carbonaceous molecules such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and fullerenes. Ubiquitously present throughout the Universe, they partake in several astrophysical and astrochemical processes. For example, they dominate the heating of the diffuse ISM and surfaces of molecular clouds and proto-planetary disks, control the ionization balance of the gas, and enhance surface chemistry. As their emission encodes a large amount of information about the physical and chemical environments in which they reside, it is a powerful messenger to study large-scale astrophysical processes such as star and planet formation and galaxy evolution.
In this talk, I will review the observational characteristics of these large molecules and summarize (some of) the remaining key questions from the observational perspective. I will discuss how the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will revolutionize our knowledge and highlight the necessity for a strong interdisciplinary collaboration (covering observations, experiments, theory) to fully leverage the ground-breaking astronomical observations that will be provided by JWST.