Background Infrared Sources for Studying the Galactic Center’s Interstellar Gas

Geballe, T. R., Lambrides, E., Schlegelmilch, B., Yeh, S. C. C., Goto, M., Westrick, C., Oka, T., Najarro, F. 2019. Background Infrared Sources for Studying the Galactic Center’s Interstellar Gas. Astrophysical Journal 872, 1, DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aafedc

We briefly describe the results of a K-band spectroscopic survey of over 500 highly reddened point-like objects on sightlines toward the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ) of the Galaxy. The goal was to find stars with featureless or nearly featureless spectra suitable for near- and mid-infrared absorption spectroscopy of the Galactic center’s interstellar gas on sightlines spread across the CMZ. Until recently only a few such stars have been known outside of very localized sightlines in the vicinity of the Quintuplet and Central clusters. We have used Spitzer Space Telescope Galactic Legacy Infrared Midplane Survey Extraordinaire and Two-Micron All-Sky Survey photometry to select promising candidates, and over the last 10 years have been acquiring low-resolution K-band spectra of them. As expected, the vast majority are cool and/or highly reddened red giants with complex photospheric spectra unsuitable for measuring faint interstellar lines. Approximately 10% of them, whose observations are reported here, have featureless or nearly featureless spectra. Although not evenly distributed in Galactic longitude, these stars are scattered across the CMZ. Many of them are luminous stars that are deeply embedded in warm dust cocoons, and have K-band continua rising steeply to longer wavelengths. A significant fraction of them are hot stars of a variety of spectral types, including at least five newly discovered Wolf-Rayet stars. All of them should be suitable for spectroscopy of interstellar absorption lines at infrared wavelengths greater than 3 mu m and many are also suitable at shorter wavelengths.

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