H3+ was first discovered by J.J. Thomson in 1911. While studying the resultant species of plasma discharges, he discovered something very odd. Using an early form of mass spectrometry, he discovered a large abundance of a molecular ion with a mass-to-charge ratio of 3. He stated that the only two possibilities were C4+ or H3+. Since C4+ would be very unlikely and the signal grew stronger in pure hydrogen gas, he correctly assigned the species as H3+.
The formation pathway was discovered by Hogness & Lunn in 1925. They also used an early form of mass spectrometry to study hydrogen discharges. They found that as the pressure of hydrogen increased, the amount of H3+ increased linearly and the amount of H2+ decreased linearly. In addition, there was little H+ at any pressure. This data suggested the proton exchange formation pathway discussed below.
In 1961, Martin et al. first suggested that H3+ may be present in interstellar space given the large amount of hydrogen in interstellar space and its reaction pathway was exothermic (~1.5 eV). This led to the suggestion of Watson and Herbst & Klemperer in 1973 that H3+ is responsible for the formation of many observed molecular ions.
It was not until 1980 that the first spectrum of H3+ was discovered by Takeshi Oka, which was of the ν2 fundamental band using a technique called frequency modulation detection. This started the search for interstellar H3+. Emission lines were detected in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the ionospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus.
In 1996, H3+ was finally detected in the interstellar medium (ISM) by Geballe & Oka in two molecular interstellar clouds in the sightlines GL2136 and W33A. In 1998, H3+ was unexpectedly detected by McCall et al. in a diffuse interstellar cloud in the sightline Cygnus OB2#12. In 2006 Oka announced that H3+ was ubiquitous in interstellar medium, and that the Central Molecular Zone contained a million times the concentration of ISM generally.
Read more about this topic: Trihydrogen Cation
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