WUNA Lunch Talk:

Sharon Meidt

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg

How dynamical environment regulates the structure of the molecular gas and star formation in M51

November 21

12:10PM, Room 230, NRAO, Edgemont Road


Gas kinematics on the scales of Giant Molecular Clouds (GMCs) are essential for probing the framework that links the large-scale organization of interstellar gas to cloud formation and subsequent star formation. I will present an overview of results from the PdBI Arcsecond Whirlpool Survey (PAWS, PI: E. Schinnerer), which has mapped CO(1-0) emission over 9 kpc in the nearby grand-design spiral galaxy M51 at 40 pc resolution, and is sensitive to giant molecular clouds (GMCs) with masses above 105 Msun. This unprecedented view challenges the conventional picture of how molecular gas is structured and organized in galaxies: clouds are not ‘universal’, but respond to their environment, resulting in a diversity of cloud properties that not only depend on (dynamical) environment but also vary from galaxy to galaxy. I will discuss how this sensitivity to environment emerges, in consideration of the stability of M51’s GMCs (including the effects of pressure, shear, turbulence) and our view of non-circular motions in the gas disk. As a result of the strong streaming motions that arise due to departures from axisymmetry in the gravitational potential (i.e. the nuclear bar and spiral arms), embedded clouds feel a reduced surface pressure, which can prevent collapse. This dynamical pressure naturally leads to changes in the efficiency of star formation and hence gas depletion time along the spiral arms. I will show that local reductions to cloud surface pressure in M51 dominate over shear and star formation feedback-driven turbulence in determining the observed radial variation the depletion time. I will also describe how incorporating a dynamical pressure term to the canonical free-fall time produces a single star formation law that can be applied to all star-forming regions and galaxies, across cosmic time.