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Europhysics Letters


We have studied photoassociation of metastable 23S1 helium atoms near the 23S1-23P2 asymptote by both ion detection in a magneto-optical trap and trap-loss measurements in a magnetic trap. A detailed comparison between the results of the two experiments gives insight into the mechanism of the Penning ionization process. We have identified four series of resonances corresponding to vibrational molecular levels belonging to different rotational states in two potentials. The corresponding spin states become quasi-purely quintet at small interatomic distance, and Penning ionization is inhibited by spin conservation rules. Only a weak rotational coupling is responsible for the contamination by singlet spin states leading to a detectable ion signal. However, for one of these series, Bose statistics does not enable the rotational coupling and the series detected through trap-loss does not give rise to sufficient ionization for detection.

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