The interstellar medium — matter existing between a galaxy’s star systems — is composed of a wide variety of molecules, including a carbon hydride ion that was discovered as early as the 1940s. Extremely reactive, the hydride ion disappears quicker than almost any other molecule that has been studied from outer space.
Recently, a team of astronomers has discovered how carbon hydride ions do in space. Specifically in the gas reservoirs that surround cosmic star formations called “starburst galaxies”. Using equipment from the European Southern Observatory, the researchers spotted CH+ ions in five of six “starburst galaxies” they studied.
ESO astronomer Martin Zwaan says “CH+ is a special molecule. It needs a lot of energy to form and is very reactive, which means its lifetime is very short and it can’t be transported far. CH+ therefore traces how energy flows in the galaxies and their surroundings.”
“Starburst Galaxies” are “among the most extreme star-forming engines in the Universe, producing stars over about 100 million years”, said the researchers. The extremely fast rate of star birth is fueled by the reservoirs of molecular gas (including CH+) that move towards the core of the starburst.
Studying the interplay of CH+ revealed intense shock waves from hot, fast galactic winds inside of the galaxies’ star-birthing areas. “With CH+, we learn that energy is stored with vast galaxy-sized winds and ends up as turbulent motions in previously unseen reservoirs of cold gas surrounding the galaxy”, says lead study author Edith Falgarone.
This helps to explain how starburst galaxies give birth to so many stars so quickly. “By driving turbulence in the reservoirs, these galactic winds extend the starburst phase instead of quenching it.” Also noting the discovery of CH+ around star-forming events can lead to a new understanding of how galaxies are born, she concluded “Our results challenge the theory of galaxy evolution.”
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