Curious ‘hot molecular core’ found in Large Magellanic Cloud

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The Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. It hosts a hot molecular core which has been the topic of a recent study.
ESA / NASA / Hubble

Astronomers have discovered a “hot molecular core”, a cocoon of molecules surrounding a newborn massive star, for the first time outside our galaxy – and it’s quite different to anything we’ve seen in the Milky Way.

The Japanese team comprising Takashi Shimonishi from Tohoku University, Takashi Onaka from The University of Tokyo, Akiko Kawamura from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Yuri Aikawa from The University of Tsukuba peered at a newborn star in the nearby dwarf galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, with the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile.

They found evidence it was sheathed in a hot molecular core which consisted of many different types of molecules  and a clear deficiency in others.

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Left: Distributions of molecular line emission from a hot molecular core in the Large Magellanic Cloud observed with ALMA. Emissions from dust, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and formaldehyde are shown as examples. Right: An infrared image of the surrounding star-forming region.
T. Shimonishi / Tohoku University, ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO)

“This is the first detection of an extragalactic hot molecular core, and it demonstrates the great capability of new generation telescopes to study astrochemical phenomena beyond the Milky Way,” Shimonishi says.

Complex organic molecules, which have a connection to prebiotic molecules formed in space, can be detected in hot molecular cores in our galaxy. 

But it was not yet clear if such large and complex molecules existed in hot molecular cores in other galaxies.

This newly discovered hot molecular core, published in The Astrophysical Journal, is rich in sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and formaldehyde, but simple organic molecules such as methanol were lacking.

This could mean the galaxy finds it difficult to produce the large organic species indispensable for the birth of life.

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