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Title: The lifecycle of molecular clouds in nearby star-forming disc galaxies
ABSTRACT It remains a major challenge to derive a theory of cloud-scale ($\lesssim100$ pc) star formation and feedback, describing how galaxies convert gas into stars as a function of the galactic environment. Progress has been hampered by a lack of robust empirical constraints on the giant molecular cloud (GMC) lifecycle. We address this problem by systematically applying a new statistical method for measuring the evolutionary timeline of the GMC lifecycle, star formation, and feedback to a sample of nine nearby disc galaxies, observed as part of the PHANGS-ALMA survey. We measure the spatially resolved (∼100 pc) CO-to-H α flux ratio and find a universal de-correlation between molecular gas and young stars on GMC scales, allowing us to quantify the underlying evolutionary timeline. GMC lifetimes are short, typically $10\!-\!30\,{\rm Myr}$, and exhibit environmental variation, between and within galaxies. At kpc-scale molecular gas surface densities $\Sigma _{\rm H_2}\ge 8\,\rm {M_\odot}\,{{\rm pc}}^{-2}$, the GMC lifetime correlates with time-scales for galactic dynamical processes, whereas at $\Sigma _{\rm H_2}\le 8\,\rm {M_\odot}\,{{\rm pc}}^{-2}$ GMCs decouple from galactic dynamics and live for an internal dynamical time-scale. After a long inert phase without massive star formation traced by H α (75–90 per cent of the cloud lifetime), GMCs disperse within just $1\!-\!5\,{\rm Myr}$ once more » massive stars emerge. The dispersal is most likely due to early stellar feedback, causing GMCs to achieve integrated star formation efficiencies of 4–10 per cent. These results show that galactic star formation is governed by cloud-scale, environmentally dependent, dynamical processes driving rapid evolutionary cycling. GMCs and H ii regions are the fundamental units undergoing these lifecycles, with mean separations of $100\!-\!300\,{{\rm pc}}$ in star-forming discs. Future work should characterize the multiscale physics and mass flows driving these lifecycles. « less
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Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
2872 to 2909
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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