The Chemistry Of Stellar Cocoons

Astronomers have discovered the first ‘hot molecular core,’ a cocoon of molecules that surrounds newborn stars, in a galaxy other than our own.

AsianScientist (Oct. 10, 2016) – For the first time, astronomers have discovered a hot molecular core, or a cocoon of molecules surrounding a newborn massive star, outside our galaxy, the Milky Way. The discovery was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Various complex organic molecules, which are linked to prebiotic molecules formed in space, have previously been detected from hot molecular cores in our galaxy. It is, however, not yet clear if such large and complex molecules exist in hot molecular cores in other galaxies.

The scientists from Tohoku University, the University of Tokyo, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, and the University of Tsukuba used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile to observe a newborn star located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our galaxy’s closest neighbors. As a result, they detected a number of radio emission lines from various molecular gases which indicate the presence of a hot molecular core associated with the observed newborn star.

The observations revealed that the hot molecular core in the Large Magellanic Cloud has a significantly different chemical compositions as compared to similar objects in our galaxy. In particular, the results suggest that simple organic molecules such as methanol are deficient in this galaxy, suggesting a potential difficulty in producing large organic species indispensable for the birth of life.

The research team suggests that the unique galactic environment of the Large Magellanic Cloud affects the formation processes of molecules around a newborn star, and this results in the observed unique chemical compositions.

“The observations have suggested that the chemical compositions of materials that form stars and planets are much more diverse than we expected,” said Dr. Takashi Shimonishi, an astronomer at Tohoku University and the paper’s lead author.

It is hoped that further observations of extragalactic hot molecular cores will shed more light on the chemical complexities of our universe.

The article can be found at: Shimonishi et al. (2016) The Detection of a Hot Molecular Core in the Large Magellanic Cloud with ALMA.


Source: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan; Photo: T. Shimonishi/Tohoku University, ALMA.
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