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Detection of complex organic molecules in a prestellar core: a new challenge for astrochemical models

Abstract : Context. Complex organic molecules (COMs) have long been detected in the interstellar medium, especially in hot cores and in the hot corinos of low-mass protostars. Their formation routes however remain uncertain. Both warm gas-phase reactions and warm grain-surface reactions have been invoked to account for their presence in low-mass protostars. In this latter scheme, COMs result from radical-radical reactions on the grains as radicals become mobile when the nascent protostar warms up its surroundings and the resulting molecules are subsequently desorbed into the gas phase at higher temperatures.
Aims: Prestellar cores are the direct precursors of low-mass protostars and offer a unique opportunity to study the formation of COMs before the warm-up phase. Their very low temperatures (≤ 10 K) and the absence of any heating source or outflow exclude any efficient warm gas phase or warm dust chemistry, so that the presence of COMs in prestellar cores would have to originate from non-thermal chemical processes.
Methods: We used the IRAM 30 m telescope to look for four O-bearing COMs (acetaldehyde CH3CHO, dimethyl ether CH3OCH3, methyl formate CH3OCHO, and ketene CH2CO) in the prestellar core L1689B.
Results: We report the unambiguous detection of all four molecules in the cold gas phase of L1689B. These detections support the role played by non-thermal (possibly photolytic) processes in COM formation and desorption, though the presence of dimethyl ether is so far unexplained by current grain formation scenarios. The data show univocally that COM synthesis has already started at the prestellar stage and suggests at least part of the COMs detected in hot corinos have a prestellar origin.

Based on observations carried out with the IRAM 30 m Telescope. IRAM is supported by INSU/CNRS (France), MPG (Germany), and IGN (Spain).Appendices are available in electronic form at http://www.aanda.org

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A. Bacmann, V. Taquet, A. Faure, C. Kahane, C. Ceccarelli. Detection of complex organic molecules in a prestellar core: a new challenge for astrochemical models. Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A, EDP Sciences, 2012, 541, ⟨10.1051/0004-6361/201219207⟩. ⟨insu-03612434⟩

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