First Detection of Gas-phase Methanol in a Protoplanetary Disk

Catherine Walsh, Ryan A Loomis, Karen I Oberg, Mihkel Kama, Merel L R van 't Hoff, Tom J Millar, Yuri Aikawa, Eric Herbst, Susanna L Widicus Weaver, Hideko Nomura

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The first detection of gas-phase methanol in a protoplanetary disk (TW Hya) is presented. In addition to being one of the largest molecules detected in disks to date, methanol is also the first disk organic molecule with an unambiguous ice chemistry origin. The stacked methanol emission, as observed with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, is spectrally resolved and detected across six velocity channels (>3σ), reaching a peak signal-to-noise of 5.5σ, with the kinematic pattern expected for TW Hya. Using an appropriate disk model, a fractional abundance of 3 x 10-12 – 4 x 10-11 (with respect to H2) reproduces the stacked line profile and channel maps, with the favored abundance dependent upon the assumed vertical location (midplane versus molecular layer). The peak emission is offset from the source position, suggesting that the methanol emission has a ring-like morphology: the analysis here suggests it peaks at ≈30 au, reaching a column density ≈3–6 x 1012 cm−2. In the case of TW Hya, the larger (up to millimeter-sized) grains, residing in the inner 50 au, may thus host the bulk of the disk ice reservoir. The successful detection of cold gas-phase methanol in a protoplanetary disk implies that the products of ice chemistry can be explored in disks, opening a window into studying complex organic chemistry during planetary system formation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberL10
Number of pages7
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2016


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