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NEATH – II. N2H+ as a tracer of imminent star formation in quiescent high-density gas

Priestley, F. D., Clark, P. C. ORCID:, Glover, S. C. O., Ragan, S. E. ORCID:, Feher, O., Prole, L. R. and Klessen, R. S. 2023. NEATH – II. N2H+ as a tracer of imminent star formation in quiescent high-density gas. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 526 (4) , 4952–4960. 10.1093/mnras/stad3089

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Star formation activity in molecular clouds is often found to be correlated with the amount of material above a column density threshold of ∼1022cm−2 ⁠. Attempts to connect this column density threshold to a volume density above which star formation can occur are limited by the fact that the volume density of gas is difficult to reliably measure from observations. We post-process hydrodynamical simulations of molecular clouds with a time-dependent chemical network, and investigate the connection between commonly observed molecular species and star formation activity. We find that many molecules widely assumed to specifically trace the dense, star-forming component of molecular clouds (e.g. HCN, HCO+, CS) actually also exist in substantial quantities in material only transiently enhanced in density, which will eventually return to a more diffuse state without forming any stars. By contrast, N2H+ only exists in detectable quantities above a volume density of 104cm−3 ⁠, the point at which CO, which reacts destructively with N2H+, begins to deplete out of the gas phase on to grain surfaces. This density threshold for detectable quantities of N2H+ corresponds very closely to the volume density at which gas becomes irreversibly gravitationally bound in the simulations: the material traced by N2H+ never reverts to lower densities, and quiescent regions of molecular clouds with visible N2H+ emission are destined to eventually form stars. The N2H+ line intensity is likely to directly correlate with the star formation rate averaged over time-scales of around a Myr.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Advanced Research Computing @ Cardiff (ARCCA)
Physics and Astronomy
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISSN: 0035-8711
Funders: STFC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 2 November 2023
Date of Acceptance: 6 October 2023
Last Modified: 30 Jun 2024 23:19

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