First extragalactic detection of a phosphorus-bearing molecule with ALCHEMI: Phosphorus nitride (PN)
Context. Phosphorus (P) is a crucial element for life given its central role in several biomolecules. P-bearing molecules have been discovered in different regions of the Milky Way, but not yet towards an extragalactic environment.
Aims: We searched for P-bearing molecules outside the Milky Way towards the nearby starburst Galaxy NGC 253.
Methods: Using observations from the ALMA Comprehensive High-resolution Extragalactic Molecular Inventory (ALCHEMI) project, we used the MAdrid Data CUBe Analysis package to model the emission of P-bearing molecules assuming local thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE) conditions. We also performed a non-LTE analysis using SpectralRadex.
Results: We report the detection of a P-bearing molecule, phosphorus nitride (PN), for the first time in an extragalactic environment, towards two giant molecular clouds (GMCs) of NGC 253. The LTE analysis yields total PN beam-averaged column densities N = (1.20 ± 0.09) × 1013 cm−2 and N = (6.5 ± 1.6) × 1012 cm−2, which translate into abundances with respect to H2 of χ = (8.0 ± 1.0) × 10−12 and χ = (4.4 ± 1.2) × 10−12. We derived a low excitation temperature of Tex = (4.4 ± 1.3) K towards the GMC with the brightest PN emission, which indicates that PN is sub-thermally excited. The non-LTE analysis results in column densities consistent with the LTE values. We also searched for other P-bearing molecules (PO, PH3, CP, and CCP), and upper limits were derived. The derived PO/PN ratios are < 1.3 and < 1.7. The abundance ratio between PN and the shock-tracer SiO derived towards NGC 253 follows the same trend previously found towards Galactic sources.
Conclusions: Comparison of the observations with chemical models indicates that the derived molecular abundances of PN in NGC 253 can be explained by shock-driven chemistry followed by cosmic-ray-driven photochemistry.
Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Pub Date:
- March 2022
- galaxies: individual: NGC 253;
- ISM: clouds;
- ISM: molecules;
- ISM: abundances;
- Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies
- 14 pages, 14 figures, 4 tables. Accepted for publication in A&