Star Formation Efficiency in Nearby Galaxies Revealed with a New CO-to-H2 Conversion Factor Prescription

Yu Hsuan Teng, I. Da Chiang, Karin M. Sandstrom, Jiayi Sun, Adam K. Leroy, Alberto D. Bolatto, Antonio Usero, Eve C. Ostriker, Miguel Querejeta, Jérémy Chastenet, Frank Bigiel, Médéric Boquien, Jakob den Brok, Yixian Cao, Mélanie Chevance, Ryan Chown, Dario Colombo, Cosima Eibensteiner, Simon C.O. Glover, Kathryn GrashaJonathan D. Henshaw, María J. Jiménez-Donaire, Daizhong Liu, Eric J. Murphy, Hsi An Pan, Sophia K. Stuber, Thomas G. Williams

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Determining how the galactic environment, especially the high gas densities and complex dynamics in bar-fed galaxy centers, alters the star formation efficiency (SFE) of molecular gas is critical to understanding galaxy evolution. However, these same physical or dynamical effects also alter the emissivity properties of CO, leading to variations in the CO-to-H2 conversion factor (α CO) that impact the assessment of the gas column densities and thus of the SFE. To address such issues, we investigate the dependence of α CO on the local CO velocity dispersion at 150 pc scales using a new set of dust-based α CO measurements and propose a new α CO prescription that accounts for CO emissivity variations across galaxies. Based on this prescription, we estimate the SFE in a sample of 65 galaxies from the PHANGS-Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array survey. We find increasing SFE toward high-surface-density regions like galaxy centers, while using a constant or metallicity-based α CO results in a more homogeneous SFE throughout the centers and disks. Our prescription further reveals a mean molecular gas depletion time of 700 Myr in the centers of barred galaxies, which is overall three to four times shorter than in nonbarred galaxy centers or the disks. Across the galaxy disks, the depletion time is consistently around 2-3 Gyr, regardless of the choice of α CO prescription. All together, our results suggest that the high level of star formation activity in barred centers is not simply due to an increased amount of molecular gas, but also to an enhanced SFE compared to nonbarred centers or disk regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number42
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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