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Stellar feedback as the origin of an extended molecular outflow in a starburst galaxy


Recent observations have revealed that starburst galaxies can drive molecular gas outflows through stellar radiation pressure1,2. Molecular gas is the phase of the interstellar medium from which stars form, so these outflows curtail stellar mass growth in galaxies. Previously known outflows, however, involve small fractions of the total molecular gas content and have typical scales of less than a kiloparsec1,2. In at least some cases, input from active galactic nuclei is dynamically important2,3, so pure stellar feedback (the momentum return into the interstellar medium) has been considered incapable of rapidly terminating star formation on galactic scales. Molecular gas has been detected outside the galactic plane of the archetypal starburst galaxy M82 (refs 4 and 5), but so far there has been no evidence that starbursts can propel substantial quantities of cold molecular gas to the same galactocentric radius (about 10 kiloparsecs) as the warmer gas that has been traced by metal ion absorbers in the circumgalactic medium6,7. Here we report observations of molecular gas in a compact (effective radius 100 parsecs) massive starburst galaxy at redshift 0.7, which is known to drive a fast outflow of ionized gas8. We find that 35 per cent of the total molecular gas extends approximately 10 kiloparsecs, and one-third of this extended gas has a velocity of up to 1,000 kilometres per second. The kinetic energy associated with this high-velocity component is consistent with the momentum flux available from stellar radiation pressure9,10,11,12. This demonstrates that nuclear bursts of star formation are capable of ejecting large amounts of cold gas from the central regions of galaxies, thereby strongly affecting their evolution by truncating star formation and redistributing matter13,14.

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Figure 1: The 2 mm spectrum of SDSS J0905+57 obtained with the IRAM Plateau de Bure Interferometer (PdBI).
Figure 2: Maps of carbon monoxide emission.
Figure 3: Optical image of SDSS J0905+57 from the Hubble Space Telescope.


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J.E.G. acknowledges support from the Royal Society through a University Research Fellowship. A.M.D.-S. acknowledges support from the Grainger Foundation. G.H.R. acknowledges the support of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the hospitality of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. A.L.C. acknowledges funding from NSF CAREER grant AST-1055081. We thank E. Brinks, N. Murray, D. Narayanan, R. Neri and F. Walter for advice and discussions. This work is based on observations carried out with the IRAM Plateau de Bure Interferometer. IRAM is supported by INSU/CNRS (France), MPG (Germany) and IGN (Spain). Some of the data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.E.G. and R.C.H. led the original IRAM observation proposals. All authors assisted with the data analysis and writing of the manuscript. J.E.G. and M.K. led the IRAM data reduction and analysis, J.M., A.M.D.-S. and C.A.T. led the analysis of the Keck spectroscopy and P.H.S. led the morphological analysis of the Hubble Space Telescope imaging.

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Correspondence to J. E. Geach.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Average signal amplitude as a function of baseline separation for CO emission over the core line, ΔV = ±200 km s−1.

This reveals a significant deviation from a flat profile, indicating that the CO emission is partially resolved. The profile is accurately modelled by a combination of a point source (a delta function in the u–v plane) and a Gaussian profile with half-power radius of 2″. A point-source-only model can be ruled out at the 4.7σ level. Error bars show the 1σ confidence range, and are derived as w−0.5, where w is the weight , where Δν is the channel width, t is the integration time and is the product of the system temperature of two antennas. ruv is the separation of antennas in the u–v plane.

Extended Data Figure 2 Clean maps of the phase calibrators 0917+624 and 0954+658.

The FWHM beam shape is indicated as a yellow ellipse. Contours are at levels of 10% to 90% of the peak flux, with the 90% flux line closest to the centre. a, Phases were calibrated with a solution derived from calibrators observed over both projects. b, The same phase solution was applied to observations of 0917+624 observed in project X09C only. c, The calibrator 0954+658 was calibrated with a phase solution derived from 0917+624 observed during project X09C only. All sources have a profile that is matched to the synthesized beam, with no evidence of extended emission.

Extended Data Figure 3 Circularly averaged amplitude–radius profiles of the maps shown in Extended Data Fig. 2 in the u–v plane.

All profiles are consistent with unresolved emission (flat profiles). Note that observing conditions were slightly better during project X09C than during W09A. Dashed lines indicate the mean amplitude. 0954+658 X09C ‘blind’ refers to the calibration solution derived from source 0917+624 only (see Methods).

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Geach, J., Hickox, R., Diamond-Stanic, A. et al. Stellar feedback as the origin of an extended molecular outflow in a starburst galaxy. Nature 516, 68–70 (2014).

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