Since it was discovered in space back in the 1940s carbon hydride ion (CH+) has been a mystery. This molecule is actually one of the first three that has ever been discovered in the interstellar medium itself.
We now know what CH+ does in space and it is quite interesting. According to the European Southern Observatory’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, it has something to do with the formation known as starburst galaxies. Starburst galaxies are extreme star-forming engines in the universe that produce stars over a roughly 100 million year time period. The researchers from the above mentioned actually were able to obtain enough information on this to publish a study in the journal Nature. They were able to find a signal of CH+ in five of the six starburst galaxies they studied.
This is the first time that CH+ molecules have been detected in starburst galaxies and opens up tons of windows for us in the future. CH+ being a special molecule needs lots of energy to form and is highly reactive. Their presence is quite interesting because of how quickly it disappears in comparison to other molecules.
By studying the interplay of star formation and the large cold molecular gas reservoirs that move towards them all the while experiencing the feedback from surrounding stars was made possible by the detection of CH+ itself. CH+ revealed dense shock waves that are usually generated by hot fast galactic winds that come from inside these starburst galaxies. According to lead author on this study, Edith Falgrone they learned that energy is stored within vast galaxy sized winds and ends up as turbulent motions in previously unseen reservoirs of cold gas surrounding the galaxy.
We now know how starburst galaxies are able to extend the rapid star formation period thanks to this. The discovery of CH+ surrounding these star-forming events has given us a new understanding of how stars, as well as galaxies, develop. CH+ seem to work as a trace of energy on a galactic scale and Falgrone has explained that their results in general actually challenge the theory of galaxy evolution as a whole. Isn’t this amazing?
For more information on starburst galaxies in general check out the video below. I cannot wait to see where this leads us in the future, we are one step closer to understanding where we came from and I am beyond excited.