Journal Article

Modelling CO emission – II. The physical characteristics that determine the <i>X</i> factor in Galactic molecular clouds

Rahul Shetty, Simon C. Glover, Cornelis P. Dullemond, Eve C. Ostriker, Andrew I. Harris and Ralf S. Klessen

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 415, issue 4, pages 3253-3274
Published in print August 2011 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online August 2011 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Modelling CO emission – II. The physical characteristics that determine the X factor in Galactic molecular clouds

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We investigate how the X factor, the ratio of the molecular hydrogen column density () to velocity-integrated CO intensity (W), is determined by the physical properties of gas in model molecular clouds (MCs). The synthetic MCs are results of magnetohydrodynamic simulations, including a treatment of chemistry. We perform radiative transfer calculations to determine the emergent CO intensity, using the large velocity gradient approximation for estimating the CO population levels. In order to understand why observations generally find cloud-averaged values of X = XGal∼ 2 × 1020 cm−2 K−1 km−1 s, we focus on a model representing a typical Milky Way MC. Using globally integrated and W reproduces the limited range in X found in observations and a mean value X = XGal= 2.2 × 1020 cm−2 K−1 km−1 s. However, we show that when considering limited velocity intervals, X can take on a much larger range of values due to CO line saturation. Thus, the X factor strongly depends on both the range in gas velocities and the volume densities. The temperature variations within individual MCs do not strongly affect X, as dense gas contributes most to setting the X factor. For fixed velocity and density structure, gas with higher temperatures T has higher W, yielding XT−1/2 for T ∼ 20–100 K. We demonstrate that the linewidth–size scaling relationship does not influence the X factor – only the range in velocities is important. Clouds with larger linewidths σ, regardless of the linewidth–size relationship, have a higher W, corresponding to a lower value of X, scaling roughly as X ∝σ−1/2. The ‘mist’ model, often invoked to explain a constant XGal consisting of optically thick cloudlets with well-separated velocities, does not accurately reflect the conditions in a turbulent MC. We propose that the observed cloud-averaged values of XXGal are simply a result of the limited range in , temperatures and velocities found in Galactic MCs – a nearly constant value of X therefore does not require any linewidth–size relationship, or that MCs are virialized objects. Since gas properties likely differ (albeit even slightly) from cloud to cloud, masses derived through a standard value of the X factor should only be considered as a rough first estimate. For temperatures T ∼ 10–20 K, velocity dispersions σ∼ 1–6 km s−1and cm−2, we find cloud-averaged values X ∼ 2–4 × 1020 cm−2 K−1 km−1 s for solar-metallicity models.

Keywords: line: profiles; stars: formation; ISM: clouds; ISM: lines and bands; ISM: molecules; ISM: structure

Journal Article.  16457 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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