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    We present new room-temperature 1100–1800-cm−1 spectra of melilite silicates and 600–2000-cm−1 spectra of three randomly orientated fine-grained carbonates to determine the possible carrier(s) of a 6.9-μm absorption feature observed in a variety of dense astronomical environments, including young stellar objects and molecular clouds. We focus on the low-mass post-asymptotic giant branch star Sakurai’s Object, which has been forming substantial quantities of carbonaceous dust since an eruptive event in the 1990s. Large melilite grains cannot be responsible for the 6.9-μm absorption feature because the similarly shaped feature in the laboratory spectrum was produced by very low (0.1 per cent by mass) carbonate contamination, which was not detected at other wavelengths. Due to the high band strength of the 6.9-μm feature in carbonates, we conclude that carbonates carry the astronomical 6.9-μm feature. Replacement of melilite with carbonates in models of Sakurai’s Object improves fits to the 6–7-μm Spitzer spectra without significantly altering other conclusions of Bowey’s previous models except that there is no link between the feature and the abundance of melilite in meteorites. With magnesite (MgCO3), the abundance of 25-μm-sized SiC grains is increased by 10–50 per cent and better constrained. The mass of carbonate dust is similar to the mass of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon dust. Existing experiments suggest that carbonates are stable below 700 K; however, it is difficult to ascertain the applicability of these experiments to astronomical environments, and more studies are required.

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