Elusive Iron: Detection of the FeC Radical (X 3Δi ) in the Envelope of IRC+10216

L. A. Koelemay, L. M. Ziurys

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3 Scopus citations


A new interstellar molecule, FeC (X 3Δi ), has been identified in the circumstellar envelope of the carbon-rich asymptotic giant branch star IRC+10216. FeC is the second iron-bearing species conclusively observed in the interstellar medium, in addition to FeCN, also found in IRC+10216. The J = 4 → 3, 5 → 4, and 6 → 5 rotational transitions of this free radical near 160, 201, and 241 GHz, respectively, were detected in the lowest spin-orbit ladder, Ω = 3, using the Submillimeter Telescope of the Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO) for the 1 mm lines and the ARO 12 m at 2 mm. Because the ground state of FeC is inverted, these transitions are the lowest energy lines. The detected features exhibit slight U shapes with LSR velocities near V LSR ≈ −26 km s−1 and linewidths of ΔV 1/2 ≈ 30 km s−1, line parameters characteristic of IRC+10216. Radiative transfer modeling of FeC suggests that the molecule has a shell distribution with peak radius near 300 R * (∼6″) extending out to ∼500 R * (∼10″) and a fractional abundance, relative to H2, of f ∼ 6 × 10−11. The previous FeCN spectra were also modeled, yielding an abundance of f ∼ 8 × 10−11 in a larger shell situated near 800 R *. These distributions suggest that FeC may be the precursor species for FeCN. Unlike cyanides and carbon-chain molecules, diatomic carbides with a metallic element are rare in IRC+10216, with FeC being the first such detection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL6
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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