Structure of stationary photodissociation fronts

B. T. Draine, Frank Bertoldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

650 Scopus citations


The structure of stationary photodissociation fronts is revisited. H2 self-shielding is discussed, including the effects of line overlap. We find that line overlap is important for N(H2) ≳ 1020 cm-2, with a factor-of-2 suppression of pumping rates at column densities N(H2) ≈ 3 × 1020 cm-2. We compute multiline UV pumping models and compare these with simple analytic approximations for the effects of self-shielding. The overall fluorescent efficiency of the photodissociation front is obtained for different ratios of χ/nH (where χ characterizes the intensity of the illuminating ultraviolet radiation) and different dust extinction laws. The dust optical depth τpdr to the point where 50% of the H is molecular is found to be a simple function of a dimensionless quantity φ0 depending on χ/nH the rate coefficient R(T) for H2 formation on grains, and the UV dust opacity. The fluorescent efficiency of the photodissocation region (PDR) also depends primarily on φ0 for χ ≲ 3000 and nH ≲ 104 cm-3; for stronger radiation fields and higher densities, radiative and collisional depopulation of vibrationally excited levels interferes with the radiative cascade. We show that the emission spectrum from the PDR is essentially independent of the color temperature τcolor of the illuminating radiation for 104 K ≲ Tcolor but shows some sensitivity to the rotationvibration distribution of newly formed H2. The 1-0 S(1)/2-1 S(1) and 2-1 S(1)/6-4 Q(1) intensity ratios, the ortho/para ratio, and the rotational temperature in the v = 1 and v = 2 levels are computed as functions of the temperature and density for different values of χ/nH. We apply our models to the reflection nebula NGC 2023. Apparent inconsistencies between published K-band and far-red spectroscopy of this object are discussed; we adjust the two sets of observations for consistency. We are able to reproduce approximately the (adjusted) observations with models having χ = 5000, nH = 105 cm-3, and a reasonable viewing angle. Further observations of NGC 2023 will be valuable to clarify the uncertain spatial structure of the emission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-289
Number of pages21
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART I
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: reflection nebulae
  • Infrared: ISM: lines and bands
  • Molecular processes
  • Radiative transfer
  • Ultraviolet: ISM


Dive into the research topics of 'Structure of stationary photodissociation fronts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this