The extraordinary outburst in the massive protostellar system NGC 6334 I-MM1: strong increase in mid-infrared continuum emission

T.R. Hunter, C.L. Brogan, J.M. De Buizer, A.P.M. Towner, C.D. Dowell, G.C. Macleod, B. Stecklum, C.J. Cyganowski, S.J. El-Abd, B.A. McGuire

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In recent years, dramatic outbursts have been identified toward massive protostars via infrared and millimeter dust continuum and molecular maser emission. The longest lived outburst (>6 yr) persists in NGC 6334 I-MM1, a deeply embedded object with no near-IR counterpart. Using FORCAST and HAWC+ on SOFIA, we have obtained the first mid-IR images of this field since the outburst began. Despite being undetected in pre-outburst ground-based 18 μm images, MM1 is now the brightest region at all three wavelengths (25, 37, and 53 μm), exceeding the UCHII region MM3 (NGC 6334 F). Combining the SOFIA data with ALMA imaging at four wavelengths, we construct a spectral energy distribution of the combination of MM1 and the nearby hot core MM2. The best-fit Robitaille radiative transfer model yields a luminosity of (4.9 ± 0.8) × 104 L. Accounting for an estimated pre-outburst luminosity ratio MM1:MM2 = 2.1 ± 0.4, the luminosity of MM1 has increased by a factor of 16.3 ± 4.4. The pre-outburst luminosity implies a protostar of mass 6.7 M, which can produce the ionizing photon rate required to power the pre-outburst HCHII region surrounding the likely outbursting protostar MM1B. The total energy and duration of the outburst exceed the S255IR-NIRS3 outburst by a factor of 3, suggesting a different scale of event involving expansion of the protostellar photosphere (to 20 R), thereby supporting a higher accretion rate (0.0023 M yr−1) and reducing the ionizing photon rate. In the grid of hydrodynamic models of Meyer et al., the combination of outburst luminosity and magnitude (3) places the NGC 6334 I-MM1 event in the region of moderate total accretion (~0.1–0.3 M) and hence long duration (~40–130 yr).
Original languageEnglish
Article numberL17
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2021


  • Protostars
  • Star formation
  • Far infrared astronomy
  • Submilimeter astronomy
  • Milimeter astronomy
  • Infrared astronomy
  • Interstellar masers
  • Stellar jets
  • Dust continuum emission
  • Radio continuum emission
  • Radio interferometry
  • Accretion


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