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Suppression of star formation in the galaxy NGC 253 by a starburst-driven molecular wind


The under-abundance of very massive galaxies1,2 in the Universe is frequently attributed to the effect of galactic winds3,4,5,6. Although ionized galactic winds are readily observable, most of the expelled mass (that is, the total mass flowing out from the nuclear region) is likely to be in atomic7,8 and molecular phases9,10,11 that are cooler than the ionized phases. Expanding molecular shells observed in starburst systems such as NGC 253 (ref. 12) and M 82 (refs 13, 14) may facilitate the entrainment of molecular gas in the wind. Although shell properties are well constrained12, determining the amount of outflowing gas emerging from such shells and the connection between this gas and the ionized wind requires spatial resolution better than 100 parsecs coupled with sensitivity to a wide range of spatial scales, a combination hitherto not available. Here we report observations of NGC 253, a nearby15 starburst galaxy (distance  3.4 megaparsecs) known to possess a wind16,17,18,19,20, that trace the cool molecular wind at 50-parsec resolution. At this resolution, the extraplanar molecular gas closely tracks the Hα filaments, and it appears to be connected to expanding molecular shells located in the starburst region. These observations allow us to determine that the molecular outflow rate is greater than 3 solar masses per year and probably about 9 solar masses per year. This implies a ratio of mass-outflow rate to star-formation rate of at least 1, and probably 3, indicating that the starburst-driven wind limits the star-formation activity and the final stellar content.

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Figure 1: The warm and hot phases of the galactic wind in NGC 253.
Figure 2: The cool molecular wind in NGC 253.
Figure 3: Integrated molecular wind emission in NGC 253.


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A.D.B. acknowledges partial support from a CAREER grant NSF-AST0955836, NSF-AST1139998 and from a Research Corporation for Science Advancement Cottrell Scholar award. S.V. acknowledges partial support through grant NSF-AST100958. E.C.O. is supported by the NSF through grant AST-0908185. ALMA is a partnership of ESO (representing its member states), NSF (USA) and NINS (Japan), together with NRC (Canada) and NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by ESO, AUI/NRAO and NAOJ. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the NSF operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. We thank M. Lehnert for providing the Hα image, processed by himself and M. Dahlem.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.D.B. and S.R.W. performed the detailed calculations used in the analysis. A.K.L., S.R.W. and A.D.B. reduced and analysed the ALMA data. D.B.F. reduced and analysed the HST archival data. A.D.B., F.W., A.K.L. and M.Z. wrote the ALMA proposal and designed the observations with input from co-authors. J.O. obtained and reduced the Mopra observations. A.D.B. wrote the manuscript with input from F.W., A.K.L., S.R.W., S. V. and E.C.O. All authors were participants in the discussion of results, determination of the conclusions and revision of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alberto D. Bolatto.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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This paper makes use of the following ALMA data: ADS/JAO.ALMA#2011.0.00172.S.

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Bolatto, A., Warren, S., Leroy, A. et al. Suppression of star formation in the galaxy NGC 253 by a starburst-driven molecular wind. Nature 499, 450–453 (2013).

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