The 1-indenyl (C9H7•) radical, a prototype aromatic and resonantly stabilized free radical carrying a six- and a five-membered ring, has emerged as a fundamental molecular building block of nonplanar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and carbonaceous nanostructures in deep space and combustion systems. However, the underlying formation mechanisms have remained elusive. Here, we reveal an unconventional low-temperature gas-phase formation of 1-indenyl via barrierless ring annulation involving reactions of atomic carbon [C(3P)] with styrene (C6H5C2H3) and propargyl (C3H3•) with phenyl (C6H5•). Macroscopic environments like molecular clouds act as natural low-temperature laboratories, where rapid molecular mass growth to 1-indenyl and subsequently complex PAHs involving vinyl side-chained aromatics and aryl radicals can occur. These reactions may account for the formation of PAHs and their derivatives in the interstellar medium and carbonaceous chondrites and could close the gap of timescales of their production and destruction in our carbonaceous universe.