skip to main content

Title: Environmental dependence of the molecular cloud lifecycle in 54 main-sequence galaxies
ABSTRACT

The processes of star formation and feedback, regulating the cycle of matter between gas and stars on the scales of giant molecular clouds (GMCs; ∼100 pc), play a major role in governing galaxy evolution. Measuring the time-scales of GMC evolution is important to identify and characterize the specific physical mechanisms that drive this transition. By applying a robust statistical method to high-resolution CO and narrow-band H α imaging from the PHANGS survey, we systematically measure the evolutionary timeline from molecular clouds to exposed young stellar regions on GMC scales, across the discs of an unprecedented sample of 54 star-forming main-sequence galaxies (excluding their unresolved centres). We find that clouds live for about 1−3 GMC turbulence crossing times (5−30 Myr) and are efficiently dispersed by stellar feedback within 1−5 Myr once the star-forming region becomes partially exposed, resulting in integrated star formation efficiencies of 1−8 per cent. These ranges reflect physical galaxy-to-galaxy variation. In order to evaluate whether galactic environment influences GMC evolution, we correlate our measurements with average properties of the GMCs and their local galactic environment. We find several strong correlations that can be physically understood, revealing a quantitative link between galactic-scale environmental properties and the small-scale GMC evolution. Notably, the measured CO-visible cloud more » lifetimes become shorter with decreasing galaxy mass, mostly due to the increasing presence of CO-dark molecular gas in such environment. Our results represent a first step towards a comprehensive picture of cloud assembly and dispersal, which requires further extension and refinement with tracers of the atomic gas, dust, and deeply embedded stars.

« less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10371294
Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume:
516
Issue:
2
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 3006-3028
ISSN:
0035-8711
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. 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 $1\!-\!5\,{\rm Myr}$ oncemore »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
  2. null (Ed.)
    Abstract We present a large suite of MHD simulations of turbulent, star-forming giant molecular clouds (GMCs) with stellar feedback, extending previous work by simulating 10 different random realizations for each point in the parameter space of cloud mass and size. It is found that once the clouds disperse due to stellar feedback, both self-gravitating star clusters and unbound stars generally remain, which arise from the same underlying continuum of substructured stellar density, ie. the hierarchical cluster formation scenario. The fraction of stars that are born within gravitationally-bound star clusters is related to the overall cloud star formation efficiency set by stellar feedback, but has significant scatter due to stochastic variations in the small-scale details of the star-forming gas flow. We use our numerical results to calibrate a model for mapping the bulk properties (mass, size, and metallicity) of self-gravitating GMCs onto the star cluster populations they form, expressed statistically in terms of cloud-level distributions. Synthesizing cluster catalogues from an observed GMC catalogue in M83, we find that this model predicts initial star cluster masses and sizes that are in good agreement with observations, using only standard IMF and stellar evolution models as inputs for feedback. Within our model, the ratiomore »of the strength of gravity to stellar feedback is the key parameter setting the masses of star clusters, and of the various feedback channels direct stellar radiation (photon momentum and photoionization) is the most important on GMC scales.« less
  3. ABSTRACT Understanding the evolution of self-gravitating, isothermal, magnetized gas is crucial for star formation, as these physical processes have been postulated to set the initial mass function (IMF). We present a suite of isothermal magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulations using the gizmo code that follow the formation of individual stars in giant molecular clouds (GMCs), spanning a range of Mach numbers found in observed GMCs ($\mathcal {M} \sim 10\!-\!50$). As in past works, the mean and median stellar masses are sensitive to numerical resolution, because they are sensitive to low-mass stars that contribute a vanishing fraction of the overall stellar mass. The mass-weighted median stellar mass M50 becomes insensitive to resolution once turbulent fragmentation is well resolved. Without imposing Larson-like scaling laws, our simulations find $M_\mathrm{50} \,\, \buildrel\propto \over \sim \,\,M_\mathrm{0} \mathcal {M}^{-3} \alpha _\mathrm{turb}\, \mathrm{SFE}^{1/3}$ for GMC mass M0, sonic Mach number $\mathcal {M}$, virial parameter αturb, and star formation efficiency SFE = M⋆/M0. This fit agrees well with previous IMF results from the ramses, orion2, and sphng codes. Although M50 has no significant dependence on the magnetic field strength at the cloud scale, MHD is necessary to prevent a fragmentation cascade that results in non-convergent stellar masses. For initial conditions andmore »SFE similar to star-forming GMCs in our Galaxy, we predict M50 to be $\gt 20 \, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$, an order of magnitude larger than observed ($\sim 2 \, \mathrm{M}_\odot$), together with an excess of brown dwarfs. Moreover, M50 is sensitive to initial cloud properties and evolves strongly in time within a given cloud, predicting much larger IMF variations than are observationally allowed. We conclude that physics beyond MHD turbulence and gravity are necessary ingredients for the IMF.« less
  4. ABSTRACT

    We present here the first of a series of papers aimed at better understanding the evolution and properties of giant molecular clouds (GMCs) in a galactic context. We perform high-resolution, three-dimensional arepo simulations of an interacting galaxy inspired by the well-observed M51 galaxy. Our fiducial simulations include a non-equilibrium, time-dependent, chemical network that follows the evolution of atomic and molecular hydrogen as well as carbon and oxygen self-consistently. Our calculations also treat gas self-gravity and subsequent star formation (described by sink particles), and coupled supernova feedback. In the densest parts of the simulated interstellar medium (ISM), we reach sub-parsec resolution, granting us the ability to resolve individual GMCs and their formation and destruction self-consistently throughout the galaxy. In this initial work, we focus on the general properties of the ISM with a particular focus on the cold star-forming gas. We discuss the role of the interaction with the companion galaxy in generating cold molecular gas and controlling stellar birth. We find that while the interaction drives large-scale gas flows and induces spiral arms in the galaxy, it is of secondary importance in determining gas fractions in the different ISM phases and the overall star formation rate. The behaviour ofmore »the gas on small GMC scales instead is mostly controlled by the self-regulating property of the ISM driven by coupled feedback.

    « less
  5. ABSTRACT Feedback from massive stars plays a key role in molecular cloud evolution. After the onset of star formation, the young stellar population is exposed by photoionization, winds, supernovae, and radiation pressure from massive stars. Recent observations of nearby galaxies have provided the evolutionary timeline between molecular clouds and exposed young stars, but the duration of the embedded phase of massive star formation is still ill-constrained. We measure how long massive stellar populations remain embedded within their natal cloud, by applying a statistical method to six nearby galaxies at $20{-}100~\mbox{${\rm ~pc}$}$ resolution, using CO, Spitzer 24$\rm \, \mu m$, and H α emission as tracers of molecular clouds, embedded star formation, and exposed star formation, respectively. We find that the embedded phase (with CO and 24$\rm \, \mu m$ emission) lasts for 2−7 Myr and constitutes $17{-}47{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ of the cloud lifetime. During approximately the first half of this phase, the region is invisible in H α, making it heavily obscured. For the second half of this phase, the region also emits in H α and is partially exposed. Once the cloud has been dispersed by feedback, 24$\rm \, \mu m$ emission no longer traces ongoing star formation, but remains detectable for anothermore »2−9 Myr through the emission from ambient CO-dark gas, tracing star formation that recently ended. The short duration of massive star formation suggests that pre-supernova feedback (photoionization and winds) is important in disrupting molecular clouds. The measured time-scales do not show significant correlations with environmental properties (e.g. metallicity). Future JWST observations will enable these measurements routinely across the nearby galaxy population.« less