Selective depletion towards pre-stellar cores is still not understood. The exchange between the solid and gas phases is central to this mystery. The aim of this paper is to show that the thermal desorption of O2 and CO from a submonolayer mixture is greatly affected by the composition of the initial surface population. We have performed thermally programmed desorption (TPD) experiments on various submonolayer mixtures of O2 and CO. Pure O2 and CO exhibit almost the same desorption behaviour, but their desorption differs strongly when mixed. Pure O2 is slightly less volatile than CO, while in mixtures, O2 desorbs earlier than CO. We analyse our data using a desorption law linking competition for binding sites with desorption, based on the assumption that the binding energy distribution of both molecules is the same. We apply Fermi-Dirac statistics in order to calculate the adsorption site population distribution, and derive the desorbing fluxes. Despite its simplicity, the model reproduces the observed desorption profiles, indicating that competition for adsorption sites is the reason for lower temperature O2 desorption. CO molecules push-out or 'dislodge' O2 molecules from the most favourable binding sites, ultimately forcing their early desorption. It is crucial to consider the surface coverage of dust grains in any description of desorption. Competition for access to binding sites results in some important discrepancies between similar kinds of molecules, such as CO and O2. This is an important phenomenon to be investigated in order to develop a better understanding of the apparently selective depletion observed in dark molecular clouds.
- ISM: molecules
- Methods: laboratory: molecular
- Molecular data
- Molecular processes