Astronomy and Astrophysics

Probability distribution functions of gas surface density in M 33

Download paper


Aims. We examine the interstellar medium (ISM) of M 33 to unveil fingerprints of self-gravitating gas clouds throughout the star-forming disk. Methods. The probability distribution functions (PDFs) for atomic, molecular, and total gas surface densities are determined at a resolution of about 50 pc over regions that share coherent morphological properties and considering cloud samples at different evolutionary stages in the star formation cycle. Results. Most of the total gas PDFs are well fit by log-normal functions whose width decreases radially outward. Because the HI velocity dispersion is approximately constant throughout the disk, the decrease in PDF width is consistent with a lower Mach number for the turbulent ISM at large galactocentric radii where a higher fraction of HI is in the warm phase. The atomic gas is found mostly at face-on column densities below NHlim = 2.5 × 1021 cm-2, with small radial variations of NHlim. The molecular gas PDFs do not show strong deviations from log-normal functions in the central region where molecular fractions are high. Here the high pressure and rate of star formation shapes the PDF as a log-normal function, dispersing self-gravitating complexes with intense feedback at all column densities that are spatially resolved. Power-law PDFs for the molecules are found near and above NHlim, in the southern spiral arm and in a continuous dense filament extending at larger galactocentric radii. In the filament nearly half of the molecular gas departs from a log-normal PDF, and power laws are also observed in pre-star-forming molecular complexes. The slope of the power law is between -1 and -2. This slope, combined with maps showing where the different parts of the power law PDFs come from, suggests a power-law stratification of the density within molecular cloud complexes, in agreement with the dominance of self-gravity.


28 Sep 2018


Astronomy and Astrophysics