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    In the hierarchical view of star formation, giant molecular clouds (GMCs) undergo fragmentation to form small-scale structures made up of stars and star clusters. Here we study the connection between young star clusters and cold gas across a range of extragalactic environments by combining the high resolution (1″) PHANGS–ALMA catalogue of GMCs with the star cluster catalogues from PHANGS–HST. The star clusters are spatially matched with the GMCs across a sample of 11 nearby star-forming galaxies with a range of galactic environments (centres, bars, spiral arms, etc.). We find that after 4 − 6 Myr the star clusters are no longer associated with any gas clouds. Additionally, we measure the autocorrelation of the star clusters and GMCs as well as their cross-correlation to quantify the fractal nature of hierarchical star formation. Young (≤10 Myr) star clusters are more strongly autocorrelated on kpc and smaller spatial scales than the $\gt \, 10$ Myr stellar populations, indicating that the hierarchical structure dissolves over time.


    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 cloudmore »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.

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  3. Abstract The CO-to-H 2 conversion factor ( α CO ) is critical to studying molecular gas and star formation in galaxies. The value of α CO has been found to vary within and between galaxies, but the specific environmental conditions that cause these variations are not fully understood. Previous observations on ~kiloparsec scales revealed low values of α CO in the centers of some barred spiral galaxies, including NGC 3351. We present new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array Band 3, 6, and 7 observations of 12 CO, 13 CO, and C 18 O lines on 100 pc scales in the inner ∼2 kpc of NGC 3351. Using multiline radiative transfer modeling and a Bayesian likelihood analysis, we infer the H 2 density, kinetic temperature, CO column density per line width, and CO isotopologue abundances on a pixel-by-pixel basis. Our modeling implies the existence of a dominant gas component with a density of 2–3 × 10 3 cm −3 in the central ∼1 kpc and a high temperature of 30–60 K near the nucleus and near the contact points that connect to the bar-driven inflows. Assuming a CO/H 2 abundance of 3 × 10 −4 , our analysis yields α CO ∼more »0.5–2.0 M ⊙ (K km s −1 pc 2 ) −1 with a decreasing trend with galactocentric radius in the central ∼1 kpc. The inflows show a substantially lower α CO ≲ 0.1 M ⊙ (K km s −1 pc 2 ) −1 , likely due to lower optical depths caused by turbulence or shear in the inflows. Over the whole region, this gives an intensity-weighted α CO of ∼1.5 M ⊙ (K km s −1 pc 2 ) −1 , which is similar to previous dust-modeling-based results at kiloparsec scales. This suggests that low α CO on kiloparsec scales in the centers of some barred galaxies may be due to the contribution of low-optical-depth CO emission in bar-driven inflows.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  4. Abstract We measure the low- J CO line ratios R 21 ≡ CO (2–1)/CO (1–0), R 32 ≡ CO (3–2)/CO (2–1), and R 31 ≡CO (3–2)/CO (1–0) using whole-disk CO maps of nearby galaxies. We draw CO (2–1) from PHANGS-ALMA, HERACLES, and follow-up IRAM surveys; CO (1–0) from COMING and the Nobeyama CO Atlas of Nearby Spiral Galaxies; and CO (3–2) from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope Nearby Galaxy Legacy Survey and Atacama Pathfinder Experiment Large APEX Sub-Millimetre Array mapping. All together, this yields 76, 47, and 29 maps of R 21 , R 32 , and R 31 at 20″ ∼ 1.3 kpc resolution, covering 43, 34, and 20 galaxies. Disk galaxies with high stellar mass, log ( M ⋆ / M ⊙ ) = 10.25 – 11 , and star formation rate (SFR) = 1–5 M ⊙ yr −1 , dominate the sample. We find galaxy-integrated mean values and a 16%–84% range of R 21 = 0.65 (0.50–0.83), R 32 = 0.50 (0.23–0.59), and R 31 = 0.31 (0.20–0.42). We identify weak trends relating galaxy-integrated line ratios to properties expected to correlate with excitation, including SFR/ M ⋆ and SFR/ L CO . Within galaxies, we measure centralmore »enhancements with respect to the galaxy-averaged value of ∼ 0.18 − 0.14 + 0.09 dex for R 21 , 0.27 − 0.15 + 0.13 dex for R 31 , and 0.08 − 0.09 + 0.11 dex for R 32 . All three line ratios anticorrelate with galactocentric radius and positively correlate with the local SFR surface density and specific SFR, and we provide approximate fits to these relations. The observed ratios can be reasonably reproduced by models with low temperature, moderate opacity, and moderate densities, in good agreement with expectations for the cold interstellar medium. Because the line ratios are expected to anticorrelate with the CO (1–0)-to-H 2 conversion factor, α CO 1 − 0 , these results have general implications for the interpretation of CO emission from galaxies.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2023
  5. ABSTRACT When completed, the PHANGS–HST project will provide a census of roughly 50 000 compact star clusters and associations, as well as human morphological classifications for roughly 20 000 of those objects. These large numbers motivated the development of a more objective and repeatable method to help perform source classifications. In this paper, we consider the results for five PHANGS–HST galaxies (NGC 628, NGC 1433, NGC 1566, NGC 3351, NGC 3627) using classifications from two convolutional neural network architectures (RESNET and VGG) trained using deep transfer learning techniques. The results are compared to classifications performed by humans. The primary result is that the neural network classifications are comparable in quality to the human classifications with typical agreement around 70 to 80 per cent for Class 1 clusters (symmetric, centrally concentrated) and 40 to 70 per cent for Class 2 clusters (asymmetric, centrally concentrated). If Class 1 and 2 are considered together the agreement is 82 ± 3 per cent. Dependencies on magnitudes, crowding, and background surface brightness are examined. A detailed description of the criteria and methodology used for the human classifications is included along with an examination of systematic differences between PHANGS–HST and LEGUS. The distribution of data points in a colour–colour diagram is used as a ‘figure ofmore »merit’ to further test the relative performances of the different methods. The effects on science results (e.g. determinations of mass and age functions) of using different cluster classification methods are examined and found to be minimal.« less
  6. Abstract

    We present a rich, multiwavelength, multiscale database built around the PHANGS–ALMA CO (2 − 1) survey and ancillary data. We use this database to present the distributions of molecular cloud populations and subgalactic environments in 80 PHANGS galaxies, to characterize the relationship between population-averaged cloud properties and host galaxy properties, and to assess key timescales relevant to molecular cloud evolution and star formation. We show that PHANGS probes a wide range of kpc-scale gas, stellar, and star formation rate (SFR) surface densities, as well as orbital velocities and shear. The population-averaged cloud properties in each aperture correlate strongly with both local environmental properties and host galaxy global properties. Leveraging a variable selection analysis, we find that the kpc-scale surface densities of molecular gas and SFR tend to possess the most predictive power for the population-averaged cloud properties. Once their variations are controlled for, galaxy global properties contain little additional information, which implies that the apparent galaxy-to-galaxy variations in cloud populations are likely mediated by kpc-scale environmental conditions. We further estimate a suite of important timescales from our multiwavelength measurements. The cloud-scale freefall time and turbulence crossing time are ∼5–20 Myr, comparable to previous cloud lifetime estimates. The timescales formore »orbital motion, shearing, and cloud–cloud collisions are longer, ∼100 Myr. The molecular gas depletion time is 1–3 Gyr and shows weak to no correlations with the other timescales in our data. We publish our measurements online, and expect them to have broad utility to future studies of molecular clouds and star formation.

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  7. 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
  8. Abstract The PHANGS program is building the first data set to enable the multiphase, multiscale study of star formation across the nearby spiral galaxy population. This effort is enabled by large survey programs with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), MUSE on the Very Large Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), with which we have obtained CO(2–1) imaging, optical spectroscopic mapping, and high-resolution UV–optical imaging, respectively. Here, we present PHANGS-HST, which has obtained NUV– U – B – V – I imaging of the disks of 38 spiral galaxies at distances of 4–23 Mpc, and parallel V - and I -band imaging of their halos, to provide a census of tens of thousands of compact star clusters and multiscale stellar associations. The combination of HST, ALMA, and VLT/MUSE observations will yield an unprecedented joint catalog of the observed and physical properties of ∼100,000 star clusters, associations, H ii regions, and molecular clouds. With these basic units of star formation, PHANGS will systematically chart the evolutionary cycling between gas and stars across a diversity of galactic environments found in nearby galaxies. We discuss the design of the PHANGS-HST survey and provide an overview of the HST data processing pipeline andmore »first results. We highlight new methods for selecting star cluster candidates, morphological classification of candidates with convolutional neural networks, and identification of stellar associations over a range of physical scales with a watershed algorithm. We describe the cross-observatory imaging, catalogs, and software products to be released. The PHANGS high-level science products will seed a broad range of investigations, in particular, the study of embedded stellar populations and dust with the James Webb Space Telescope, for which a PHANGS Cycle 1 Treasury program to obtain eight-band 2–21 μ m imaging has been approved.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  9. Abstract PHANGS-HST is an ultraviolet-optical imaging survey of 38 spiral galaxies within ∼20 Mpc. Combined with the PHANGS-ALMA, PHANGS-MUSE surveys and other multiwavelength data, the dataset will provide an unprecedented look into the connections between young stars, H ii regions, and cold molecular gas in these nearby star-forming galaxies. Accurate distances are needed to transform measured observables into physical parameters (e.g., brightness to luminosity, angular to physical sizes of molecular clouds, star clusters and associations). PHANGS-HST has obtained parallel ACS imaging of the galaxy halos in the F606W and F814W bands. Where possible, we use these parallel fields to derive tip of the red giant branch (TRGB) distances to these galaxies. In this paper, we present TRGB distances for 11 galaxies from ∼4 to ∼15 Mpc, based on the first year of PHANGS-HST observations. Five of these represent the first published TRGB distance measurements (IC 5332, NGC 2835, NGC 4298, NGC 4321, and NGC 4328), and eight of which are the best available distances to these targets. We also provide a compilation of distances for the 118 galaxies in the full PHANGS sample, which have been adopted for the first PHANGS-ALMA public data release.