Journal Article

The ISM in spiral galaxies: can cooling in spiral shocks produce molecular clouds?

C. L. Dobbs, S. C. O. Glover, P. C. Clark and R. S. Klessen

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 389, issue 3, pages 1097-1110
Published in print September 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online September 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
The ISM in spiral galaxies: can cooling in spiral shocks produce molecular clouds?

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We investigate the thermodynamics of the interstellar medium (ISM) and the formation of molecular hydrogen through numerical simulations of spiral galaxies. The model follows the chemical, thermal and dynamical response of the disc to an external spiral potential. Self-gravity and magnetic fields are not included. The calculations demonstrate that gas can cool rapidly when subject to a spiral shock. Molecular clouds in the spiral arms arise through a combination of compression of the ISM by the spiral shock and orbit crowding. These results highlight that local self-gravity is not required to form molecular clouds. Self-shielding provides a sharp transition density, below which gas is essentially atomic, and above which the molecular gas fraction is >0.001. The time-scale for gas to move between these regimes is very rapid (≤1 Myr). From this stage, the majority of gas generally takes between 10 and 20 Myr to obtain high-H2 fractions (>50 per cent). These are, however, strict upper limits to the H2 formation time-scale, since our calculations are unable to resolve turbulent motions on scales smaller than the spiral arm, and do not include self-gravity. True cloud formation time-scales are therefore expected to be even shorter.

The mass budget of the disc is dominated by cold gas residing in the spiral arms. Between 50 and 75 per cent of this gas is in the atomic phase. When this gas leaves the spiral arm and drops below the self-shielding limit, it is heated by the galactic radiation field. Consequently, most of the volume in the interarm regions is filled with warm atomic gas. However, some cold spurs and clumps can survive in interarm regions for periods comparable to the interarm passage time-scale. Altogether between 7 and 40 per cent of the gas in our disc is molecular, depending on the surface density of the calculation, with approximately 20 per cent molecular for a surface density comparable to the solar neighbourhood.

Keywords: hydrodynamics; stars: formation; ISM: clouds; ISM: molecules; galaxies: spiral; galaxies: structure

Journal Article.  10557 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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