Photoionization efficiency (PIE) curves for C(3) molecules produced by laser ablation are measured from 11.0 to 13.5 eV with tunable vacuum ultraviolet undulator radiation. A step in the PIE curve versus photon energy, obtained with N(2) as the carrier gas, supports the conclusion of very effective cooling of C(3) to its linear (1)Sigma(g)(+) ground state. The second step observed in the PIE curve versus photon energy could be the first experimental evidence of the C(3)(+)((2)Sigma(g)(+)) excited state. The experimental results, complemented by ab initio calculations, suggest a state-to-state vertical ionization energy of 11.70 +/- 0.05 eV between the C(3)(X(1)Sigma(g)(+)) and the C(3)(+)(X(2)Sigma(u)(+)) states. An ionization energy of 11.61 +/- 0.07 eV between the neutral and ionic ground states of C(3) is deduced using the data together with our calculations. Accurate ab initio calculations are performed for both linear and bent geometries on the lowest doublet electronic states of C(3)(+) using Configuration Interaction (CI) approaches and large basis sets. These calculations confirm that C(3)(+) is bent in its electronic ground state, which is separated by a small potential barrier from the (2)Sigma(u)(+) minimum. The gradual increase at the onset of the PIE curve suggests a geometry change between the ground neutral and cationic states. The energies between several doublet states of the ion are theoretically determined to be 0.81, 1.49, and 1.98 eV between the (2)Sigma(u)(+) and the (2)Sigma(g)(+),( 2)Pi(u), (2)Pi(g) excited states of C(3)(+), respectively.

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