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The role of turbulence in star formation laws and thresholds


Kraljic, Katarina; Renaud, Florent; Bournaud, Frédéric; Combes, Françoise; Elmegreen, Bruce; Emsellem, Eric; Teyssier, Romain (2014). The role of turbulence in star formation laws and thresholds. Astrophysical Journal, 784(2):112-125.

Abstract

The Schmidt-Kennicutt relation links the surface densities of gas to the star formation rate in galaxies. The physical origin of this relation, and in particular its break, i.e., the transition between an inefficient regime at low gas surface densities and a main regime at higher densities, remains debated. Here, we study the physical origin of the star formation relations and breaks in several low-redshift galaxies, from dwarf irregulars to massive spirals. We use numerical simulations representative of the Milky Way and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds with parsec up to subparsec resolution, and which reproduce the observed star formation relations and the relative variations of the star formation thresholds. We analyze the role of interstellar turbulence, gas cooling, and geometry in drawing these relations at 100 pc scale. We suggest in particular that the existence of a break in the Schmidt-Kennicutt relation could be linked to the transition from subsonic to supersonic turbulence and is independent of self-shielding effects. With this transition being connected to the gas thermal properties and thus to the metallicity, the break is shifted toward high surface densities in metal-poor galaxies, as observed in dwarf galaxies. Our results suggest that together with the collapse of clouds under self-gravity, turbulence (injected at galactic scale) can induce the compression of gas and regulate star formation.

Abstract

The Schmidt-Kennicutt relation links the surface densities of gas to the star formation rate in galaxies. The physical origin of this relation, and in particular its break, i.e., the transition between an inefficient regime at low gas surface densities and a main regime at higher densities, remains debated. Here, we study the physical origin of the star formation relations and breaks in several low-redshift galaxies, from dwarf irregulars to massive spirals. We use numerical simulations representative of the Milky Way and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds with parsec up to subparsec resolution, and which reproduce the observed star formation relations and the relative variations of the star formation thresholds. We analyze the role of interstellar turbulence, gas cooling, and geometry in drawing these relations at 100 pc scale. We suggest in particular that the existence of a break in the Schmidt-Kennicutt relation could be linked to the transition from subsonic to supersonic turbulence and is independent of self-shielding effects. With this transition being connected to the gas thermal properties and thus to the metallicity, the break is shifted toward high surface densities in metal-poor galaxies, as observed in dwarf galaxies. Our results suggest that together with the collapse of clouds under self-gravity, turbulence (injected at galactic scale) can induce the compression of gas and regulate star formation.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute for Computational Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:530 Physics
Date:April 2014
Deposited On:13 Aug 2014 15:10
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 18:01
Publisher:IOP Publishing
ISSN:0004-637X
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1088/0004-637X/784/2/112

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