Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Infrared diffuse interstellar bands in the Galactic Centre region


The spectrum of any star viewed through a sufficient quantity of diffuse interstellar material reveals a number of absorption features collectively called ‘diffuse interstellar bands’ (DIBs). The first DIBs were reported about 90 years ago1, and currently well over 500 are known2. None of them has been convincingly identified with any specific element or molecule, although recent studies suggest that the DIB carriers are polyatomic molecules containing carbon3,4,5. Most of the DIBs currently known are at visible and very near-infrared wavelengths, with only two previously known at wavelengths beyond one micrometre (10,000 ångströms), the longer of which is at 1.318 micrometres (ref. 6). Here we report 13 diffuse interstellar bands in the 1.5–1.8 micrometre interval on high-extinction sightlines towards stars in the Galactic Centre. We argue that they originate almost entirely in the Galactic Centre region, a considerably warmer and harsher environment than where DIBs have been observed previously. The relative strengths of these DIBs towards the Galactic Centre and the Cygnus OB2 diffuse cloud are consistent with their strengths scaling mainly with the extinction by diffuse material.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Observed spectra of three hot stars in the Galactic Centre and an average spectrum of seven stars in the Cygnus OB2 association.
Figure 2: Spectra of the newly discovered DIBs.
Figure 3: Profile of the 1.318-µm diffuse interstellar band towards qF362.


  1. Heger, M. L. The spectra of certain class B stars in the regions 5630–6680 Å and 3280–3380 Å. Lick Obs. Bull. 10, 146–147 (1922)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. DIB database . 〈〉 (July 2011)

  3. Cox, N. L. J. in PAHs and the Universe: A Symposium to Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the PAH Hypothesis (eds Joblin, C. & Tielens, A. G. G. M. ) 349–354 (EAS Publication Series Vol. 46, European Astronomical Society, 2011)

    Google Scholar 

  4. Snow, T. P. & McCall, B. J. Diffuse atomic and molecular clouds. Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 44, 367–414 (2006)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Oka, T. & McCall, B. J. Disclosing identities in diffuse interstellar bands. Science 331, 293–294 (2011)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Joblin, C., Maillard, J. P., D’Hendecourt, L. & Léger, A. Detection of diffuse interstellar bands in the infrared. Nature 346, 729–731 (1990)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Nagata, T., Woodward, C. E., Shure, M., Pipher, J. L. & Okuda, H. AFGL 2004: an infrared quintuplet near the Galactic Center. Astrophys. J. 351, 83–88 (1990)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Muno, M. P. et al. Isolated massive supergiants near the Galactic Center. Astrophys. J. 638, 183–190 (2006)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Figer, D. F., McLean, I. S. & Morris, M. Massive stars in the Quintuplet Cluster. Astrophys. J. 514, 202–220 (1999)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Humphreys, R. M. Studies of luminous stars in nearby galaxies. I. Supergiants and O stars in the Milky Way. Astrophys. J. 38, 309–350 (1978)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Bromage, G. E. & Nandy, K. Observations of diffuse interstellar features in the spectra of dust-embedded and field stars. Astron. Astrophys. 26, 17–32 (1973)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Rawlings, M., Adamson, A., McCall, B. & Kerr, T. A high-resolution study of the near-infrared diffuse interstellar bands. Presented at IAU Symp. No. 280 〈〉 (2011)

  13. Whittet, D. C. B. et al. Infrared spectroscopy of dust in the diffuse interstellar medium toward Cygnus OB2 no. 12. Astrophys. J. 490, 729–734 (1997)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Oka, T., Geballe, T. R., Goto, M., Usuda, T. & McCall, B. J. Hot and diffuse clouds near the Galactic Center probed by metastable H3+. Astrophys. J. 632, 882–893 (2005)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Goto, M. et al. Absorption line survey of H3+ toward the Galactic Center sources. II. Eight infrared sources within 30 pc of the Galactic Center. Astrophys. J. 688, 306–319 (2008)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Hobbs, L. M. et al. Studies of the diffuse interstellar bands. III. HD 183143. Astrophys. J. 705, 32–45 (2009)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Indriolo, N., Geballe, T. R., Takeshi, O. & McCall, B. J. H3+ in diffuse interstellar clouds: a tracer for the cosmic-ray ionization rate. Astrophys. J. 671, 1736–1747 (2007)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Draine, B. T. Physics of the Interstellar and Intergalactic Medium (Princeton Univ. Press, 2011)

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  19. Herbig, G. H. The diffuse interstellar bands. Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 33, 19–73 (1995)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Pendleton, Y. J., Sandford, S. A., Allamandola, L. J., Tielens, A. G. G. M. & Sellgren, K. Near-infrared absorption spectroscopy of interstellar hydrocarbon grains. Astrophys. J. 437, 683–696 (1994)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Rawlings, M. G., Adamson, A. J. & Whittet, D. C. B. Infrared and visual interstellar absorption features toward heavily reddened field stars. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 341, 1121–1140 (2003)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references


This Letter is based on observations obtained at the Gemini Observatory, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the NSF on behalf of the Gemini partnership: the National Science Foundation (US), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (UK), the National Research Council (Canada), CONICYT (Chile), the Australian Research Council (Australia), Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia (Brazil) and Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Productiva (Argentina). This work was supported by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación. We thank A. Lenorzer for reductions of the H-band spectra of the Cygnus OB2 stars, and B. J. McCall and T. Oka for reviewing a preliminary version of the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



T.R.G. and F.N. wrote the observing proposal. T.R.G. obtained the data. B.W.S. and T.R.G. reduced the data. F.N. and T.R.G. recognized the spectral features as DIBs. T.R.G., F.N., D.F.F., D.F. and B.W.S. discussed the results. T.R.G., F.N. and D.F.F. wrote the Letter.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to T. R. Geballe.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Geballe, T., Najarro, F., Figer, D. et al. Infrared diffuse interstellar bands in the Galactic Centre region. Nature 479, 200–202 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing