An extraordinary outburst in the massive protostellar system NGC 6334I-MM1: quadrupling of the millimeter continuum

T. R. Hunter, C. L. Brogan, G. MacLeod, C. J. Cyganowski, C. J. Chandler, J. O. Chibueze, R. Friesen, R. Indebetouw, C. Thesner, K. H. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)


Based on sub-arcsecond Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and Submillimeter Array (SMA) 1.3 mm continuum images of the massive protocluster NGC 6334I obtained in 2015 and 2008, we find that the dust emission from MM1 has increased by a factor of 4.0 ± 0.3 during the intervening years, and undergone a significant change in morphology. The continuum emission from the other cluster members (MM2, MM4, and the UCH ii region MM3 = NGC 6334F) has remained constant. Long-term single-dish maser monitoring at HartRAO finds that multiple maser species toward NGC 6334I flared beginning in early 2015, a few months before our ALMA observation, and some persist in that state. New ALMA images obtained in 2016 July–August at 1.1 and 0.87 mm confirm the changes with respect to SMA 0.87 mm images from 2008, and indicate that the (sub)millimeter flaring has continued for at least a year. The excess continuum emission, centered on the hypercompact H ii region MM1B, is extended and elongated (1″6 × 1″0 ≈ 2100 × 1300 au) with multiple peaks, suggestive of general heating of the surrounding subcomponents of MM1, some of which may trace clumps in a fragmented disk rather than separate protostars. In either case, these remarkable increases in maser and dust emission provide direct observational evidence of a sudden accretion event in the growth of a massive protostar yielding a sustained luminosity surge by a factor of 70 ± 20, analogous to the largest events in simulations by Meyer et al. This target provides an excellent opportunity to assess the impact of such a rare event on a protocluster over many years.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberL29
Number of pages6
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2017


  • Stars: formation
  • Stars: protostars
  • Accretion
  • Accretion disks
  • ISM: individual objects (NGC6334I, NGC6334F)
  • Radio continuum: ISM
  • Submillimeter: ISM


Dive into the research topics of 'An extraordinary outburst in the massive protostellar system NGC 6334I-MM1: quadrupling of the millimeter continuum'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this