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  1. Abstract

    In this work, we constrain the star-forming properties of all possible sites of incipient high-mass star formation in the Milky Way’s Galactic Center. We identify dense structures using the CMZoom 1.3 mm dust continuum catalog of objects with typical radii of ∼0.1 pc, and measure their association with tracers of high-mass star formation. We incorporate compact emission at 8, 21, 24, 25, and 70μm from the Midcourse Space Experiment, Spitzer, Herschel, and SOFIA, cataloged young stellar objects, and water and methanol masers to characterize each source. We find an incipient star formation rate (SFR) for the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ) of ∼0.08Myr−1over the next few 105yr. We calculate upper and lower limits on the CMZ’s incipient SFR of ∼0.45 and ∼0.05Myr−1,respectively, spanning roughly equal to and several times greater than other estimates of CMZ’s recent SFR. Despite substantial uncertainties, our results suggest the incipient SFR in the CMZ may be higher than previously estimated. We find that the prevalence of star formation tracers does not correlate with source volume density, but instead ≳75% of high-mass star formation is found in regions above a column density ratio (NSMA/NHerschel) of ∼1.5. Finally, we highlight the detection ofatoll sources, a reoccurring morphology of cold dust encircling evolved infrared sources, possibly representing Hiiregions in the process of destroying their envelopes.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2025
  2. Abstract

    We report JWST NIRCam observations of G0.253+0.016, the molecular cloud in the Central Molecular Zone known as “The Brick,” with the F182M, F187N, F212N, F410M, F405N, and F466N filters. We catalog 56,146 stars detected in all six filters using thecrowdsourcepackage. Stars within and behind The Brick exhibit prodigious absorption in the F466N filter that is produced by a combination of CO ice and gas. In support of this conclusion, and as a general resource, we present models of CO gas and ice and CO2ice in the F466N, F470N, and F410M filters. Both CO gas and ice contribute to the observed stellar colors. We show, however, that CO gas does not absorb the Pfβand Huϵlines in F466N, but that these lines show excess absorption, indicating that CO ice is present and contributes to observed F466N absorption. The most strongly absorbed stars in F466N are extincted by ∼2 mag, corresponding to >80% flux loss. This high observed absorption requires very high column densities of CO, and thus a total CO column that is in tension with standard CO abundance and/or gas-to-dust ratios. This result suggests the CO/H2ratio and dust-to-gas ratio are greater in the Galactic Center than in the Galactic disk. Ice and/or gas absorption is observed even in the cloud outskirts, implying that additional caution is needed when interpreting stellar photometry in filters that overlap with ice bands throughout galactic centers.

     
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  3. Abstract

    Determining how the galactic environment, especially the high gas densities and complex dynamics in bar-fed galaxy centers, alters the star formation efficiency (SFE) of molecular gas is critical to understanding galaxy evolution. However, these same physical or dynamical effects also alter the emissivity properties of CO, leading to variations in the CO-to-H2conversion factor (αCO) that impact the assessment of the gas column densities and thus of the SFE. To address such issues, we investigate the dependence ofαCOon the local CO velocity dispersion at 150 pc scales using a new set of dust-basedαCOmeasurements and propose a newαCOprescription that accounts for CO emissivity variations across galaxies. Based on this prescription, we estimate the SFE in a sample of 65 galaxies from the PHANGS–Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array survey. We find increasing SFE toward high-surface-density regions like galaxy centers, while using a constant or metallicity-basedαCOresults in a more homogeneous SFE throughout the centers and disks. Our prescription further reveals a mean molecular gas depletion time of 700 Myr in the centers of barred galaxies, which is overall three to four times shorter than in nonbarred galaxy centers or the disks. Across the galaxy disks, the depletion time is consistently around 2–3 Gyr, regardless of the choice ofαCOprescription. All together, our results suggest that the high level of star formation activity in barred centers is not simply due to an increased amount of molecular gas, but also to an enhanced SFE compared to nonbarred centers or disk regions.

     
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  4. ABSTRACT

    The Central Molecular Zone (the central ∼500 pc of the Milky Way) hosts molecular clouds in an extreme environment of strong shear, high gas pressure and density, and complex chemistry. G0.253+0.016, also known as ‘the Brick’, is the densest, most compact, and quiescent of these clouds. High-resolution observations with the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) have revealed its complex, hierarchical structure. In this paper we compare the properties of recent hydrodynamical simulations of the Brick to those of the ALMA observations. To facilitate the comparison, we post-process the simulations and create synthetic ALMA maps of molecular line emission from eight molecules. We correlate the line emission maps to each other and to the mass column density and find that HNCO is the best mass tracer of the eight emission lines within the simulations. Additionally, we characterize the spatial structure of the observed and simulated cloud using the density probability distribution function (PDF), spatial power spectrum, fractal dimension, and moments of inertia. While we find good agreement between the observed and simulated data in terms of power spectra and fractal dimensions, there are key differences in the density PDFs and moments of inertia, which we attribute to the omission of magnetic fields in the simulations. This demonstrates that the presence of the Galactic potential can reproduce many cloud properties, but additional physical processes are needed to fully explain the gas structure.

     
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  5. ABSTRACT

    The Central Molecular Zone (CMZ; the central ∼500 pc of the Galaxy) is a kinematically unusual environment relative to the Galactic disc, with high-velocity dispersions and a steep size–linewidth relation of the molecular clouds. In addition, the CMZ region has a significantly lower star formation rate (SFR) than expected by its large amount of dense gas. An important factor in explaining the low SFR is the turbulent state of the star-forming gas, which seems to be dominated by rotational modes. However, the turbulence driving mechanism remains unclear. In this work, we investigate how the Galactic gravitational potential affects the turbulence in CMZ clouds. We focus on the CMZ cloud G0.253+0.016 (‘the Brick’), which is very quiescent and unlikely to be kinematically dominated by stellar feedback. We demonstrate that several kinematic properties of the Brick arise naturally in a cloud-scale hydrodynamics simulation, that takes into account the Galactic gravitational potential. These properties include the line-of-sight velocity distribution, the steepened size–linewidth relation, and the predominantly solenoidal nature of the turbulence. Within the simulation, these properties result from the Galactic shear in combination with the cloud’s gravitational collapse. This is a strong indication that the Galactic gravitational potential plays a crucial role in shaping the CMZ gas kinematics, and is a major contributor to suppressing the SFR, by inducing predominantly solenoidal turbulent modes.

     
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  6. Abstract

    pyspeckitis a toolkit and library for spectroscopic analysis in Python. We describe thepyspeckitpackage and highlight some of its capabilities, such as interactively fitting a model to data, akin to the historically widely-usedsplotfunction inIRAF.pyspeckitemploys the Levenberg–Marquardt optimization method via thempfitandlmfitimplementations, and important assumptions regarding error estimation are described here. Wrappers to usepymcandemceeas optimizers are provided. A parallelized wrapper to fit lines in spectral cubes is included. As part of theastropyaffiliated package ecosystem,pyspeckitis open source and open development, and welcomes input and collaboration from the community.

     
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  7. ABSTRACT

    Young massive clusters (YMCs) are compact (≲1 pc), high-mass (>104 M⊙) stellar systems of significant scientific interest. Due to their rarity and rapid formation, we have very few examples of YMC progenitor gas clouds before star formation has begun. As a result, the initial conditions required for YMC formation are uncertain. We present high resolution (0.13 arcsec, ∼1000 au) ALMA observations and Mopra single-dish data, showing that Galactic Centre dust ridge ‘Cloud d’ (G0.412 + 0.052, mass = 7.6 × 104 M⊙, radius = 3.2 pc) has the potential to become an Arches-like YMC (104 M⊙, r ∼ 1 pc), but is not yet forming stars. This would mean it is the youngest known pre-star-forming massive cluster and therefore could be an ideal laboratory for studying the initial conditions of YMC formation. We find 96 sources in the dust continuum, with masses ≲3 M⊙ and radii of ∼103 au. The source masses and separations are more consistent with thermal rather than turbulent fragmentation. It is not possible to unambiguously determine the dynamical state of most of the sources, as the uncertainty on virial parameter estimates is large. We find evidence for large-scale (∼1 pc) converging gas flows, which could cause the cloud to grow rapidly, gaining 104 M⊙ within 105 yr. The highest density gas is found at the convergent point of the large-scale flows. We expect this cloud to form many high-mass stars, but find no high-mass starless cores. If the sources represent the initial conditions for star formation, the resulting initial mass function will be bottom heavy.

     
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  8. ABSTRACT In the centres of the Milky Way and M83, the global environmental properties thought to control star formation are very similar. However, M83’s nuclear star formation rate (SFR), as estimated by synchrotron and H α emission, is an order of magnitude higher than the Milky Way’s. To understand the origin of this difference we use ALMA observations of HCN (1 − 0) and HCO+ (1 − 0) to trace the dense gas at the size scale of individual molecular clouds (0.54 arcsec, 12 pc) in the inner ∼500 pc of M83, and compare this to gas clouds at similar resolution and galactocentric radius in the Milky Way. We find that both the overall gas distribution and the properties of individual clouds are very similar in the two galaxies, and that a common mechanism may be responsible for instigating star formation in both circumnuclear rings. Given the considerable similarity in gas properties, the most likely explanation for the order of magnitude difference in SFR is time variability, with the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ) currently being at a more quiescent phase of its star formation cycle. We show M83’s SFR must have been an order of magnitude higher 5–7 Myr ago. M83’s ‘starburst’ phase was highly localized, both spatially and temporally, greatly increasing the feedback efficiency and ability to drive galactic-scale outflows. This highly dynamic nature of star formation and feedback cycles in galaxy centres means (i) modelling and interpreting observations must avoid averaging over large spatial areas or time-scales, and (ii) understanding the multiscale processes controlling these cycles requires comparing snapshots of a statistical sample of galaxies in different evolutionary stages. 
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  9. ABSTRACT

    We use new HCN(1–0) data from the ACA Large-sample Mapping Of Nearby galaxies in Dense gas (ALMOND) survey to trace the kpc-scale molecular gas density structure and CO(2–1) data from the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS–Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (PHANGS–ALMA) to trace the bulk molecular gas across 25 nearby star-forming galaxies. At 2.1 kpc scale, we measure the density-sensitive HCN/CO line ratio and the star formation rate (SFR)/HCN ratio to trace the star formation efficiency in the denser molecular medium. At 150 pc scale, we measure structural and dynamical properties of the molecular gas via CO(2–1) line emission, which is linked to the lower resolution data using an intensity-weighted averaging method. We find positive correlations (negative) of HCN/CO (SFR/HCN) with the surface density, the velocity dispersion, and the internal turbulent pressure of the molecular gas. These observed correlations agree with expected trends from turbulent models of star formation, which consider a single free-fall time gravitational collapse. Our results show that the kpc-scale HCN/CO line ratio is a powerful tool to trace the 150 pc scale average density distribution of the molecular clouds. Lastly, we find systematic variations of the SFR/HCN ratio with cloud-scale molecular gas properties, which are incompatible with a universal star formation efficiency. Overall, these findings show that mean molecular gas density, molecular cloud properties, and star formation are closely linked in a coherent way, and observations of density-sensitive molecular gas tracers are a useful tool to analyse these variations, linking molecular gas physics to stellar output across galaxy discs.

     
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  10. Abstract We compare mid-infrared (mid-IR), extinction-corrected H α , and CO (2–1) emission at 70–160 pc resolution in the first four PHANGS–JWST targets. We report correlation strengths, intensity ratios, and power-law fits relating emission in JWST’s F770W, F1000W, F1130W, and F2100W bands to CO and H α . At these scales, CO and H α each correlate strongly with mid-IR emission, and these correlations are each stronger than the one relating CO to H α emission. This reflects that mid-IR emission simultaneously acts as a dust column density tracer, leading to a good match with the molecular-gas-tracing CO, and as a heating tracer, leading to a good match with the H α . By combining mid-IR, CO, and H α at scales where the overall correlation between cold gas and star formation begins to break down, we are able to separate these two effects. We model the mid-IR above I ν = 0.5 MJy sr −1 at F770W, a cut designed to select regions where the molecular gas dominates the interstellar medium (ISM) mass. This bright emission can be described to first order by a model that combines a CO-tracing component and an H α -tracing component. The best-fitting models imply that ∼50% of the mid-IR flux arises from molecular gas heated by the diffuse interstellar radiation field, with the remaining ∼50% associated with bright, dusty star-forming regions. We discuss differences between the F770W, F1000W, and F1130W bands and the continuum-dominated F2100W band and suggest next steps for using the mid-IR as an ISM tracer. 
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