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Title: Star Formation Occurs in Dense Gas, but What Does “Dense” Mean?
We report results of a project to map HCN and HCO+ J=1→0 emission toward a sample of molecular clouds in the inner Galaxy, all containing dense clumps that are actively engaged in star formation. We compare these two molecular line tracers with millimeter continuum emission and extinction, as inferred from 13CO, as tracers of dense gas in molecular clouds. The fraction of the line luminosity from each tracer that comes from the dense gas, as measured by AV>8 mag, varies substantially from cloud to cloud. In all cases, a substantial fraction (in most cases, the majority) of the total luminosity arises in gas below the AV>8 mag threshold and outside the region of strong millimeter continuum emission. Measurements of L(HCN) toward other galaxies will likely be dominated by such gas at lower surface densities. Substantial, even dominant, contributions to the total line luminosity can arise in gas with densities typical of the cloud as a whole (n ∼ 100 cm-3). Defining the dense clump from the HCN or HCO+ emission itself, similarly to previous studies, leads to a wide range of clump properties, with some being considerably larger and less dense than in previous studies. HCN and HCO+ have a similar ability to trace dense gas for the clouds in this sample. For the two clouds with low virial parameters, 13CO is definitely a worse tracer of the dense gas, but for the other four, it is equally good (or bad) at tracing dense gas.  more » « less
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The Astrophysical Journal
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The Astrophysical Journal
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Medium: X
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National Science Foundation
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