Recent observational and theoretical studies of dust in dense clouds are reviewed with an emphasis on the growth of dust grains through accretion and coagulation. IR reflection nebulae around protostellar objects are useful probes of grain sizes in dense clouds. For example, detailed studies of the IR reflection nebula surrounding OMC 2-IRS 1 show that the (scattering) grains are much larger (Ã 5000 å) than in the diffuse interstellar medium. Likewise, the presence of a weak shoulder at 2.95 μm on the 3.08 μm feature in BN indicates the importance of scattering by icy grains and implies a very similar increase in the grain size.
Theoretical studies of grain surface chemistry predict the possible presence of three distinctly different grain mantle components in dense clouds depending on the physical conditions in the gas phase. These are: 1) A hydrogenated mantle dominated by H2O and CH3OH; 2) An inert grain mantle dominated by CO and O2; and 3) An oxidized grain mantle dominated by CO2. Although the importance of H2O dominated grain mantles was known for 10 yrs, the presence of CH3OH was only recently confirmed. Furthermore, recent studies of the solid CO band have revealed the presence of at least two distinctly different interstellar grain mantle components along the line of sights towards most stars: One dominated by polar and one by non-polar molecules. Although specific identification of the molecules mixed in with the CO in these components is difficult, it is quite possible that the former component is dominated by H2O and the latter by CO itself, as suggested by theoretical models. Finally, the photochemical evolution of icy grain mantles is briefly reviewed and it is suggested that the resulting complex molecular mantles may evolve into amorphous carbon mantles in the diffuse ISM.
Grain-grain collisions can lead to large modifications of the interstellar grain size distribution. At high velocities (v ≳ 1 kms−1) shattering into many small fragments will be important, while at low velocities (v ≲ 10 ms−1) coagulation dominates. Both processes can play a role in dense molecular clouds. The sticking of grains at low velocities is discussed in some detail and it is concluded that coagulation in molecular clouds is only important if the colliding grains are covered by icy grain mantles.
Thus, a model for interstellar dust is proposed in which small (≲ 500 å) silicate and carbonaceous grains are “glued” together in large (Ã 3000å), open conglomerates by a polymerized, all enveloping grain mantle. This structure resembles that of certain interplanetary dust particles collected in the upper stratosphere.