The Environmental Dependence of the X COConversion Factor

Munan Gong, Eve C. Ostriker, Chang Goo Kim, Jeong Gyu Kim

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50 Scopus citations


CO is the most widely used observational tracer of molecular gas. The observable CO luminosity is translated to H2 mass via a conversion factor, XCO, which is a source of uncertainty and bias. Despite variations in XCO, the empirically determined solar neighborhood value is often applied across different galactic environments. To improve understanding of XCO, we employ 3D magnetohydrodynamics simulations of the interstellar medium (ISM) in galactic disks with a large range of gas surface densities, allowing for varying metallicity, far-ultraviolet (FUV) radiation, and cosmic-ray ionization rate (CRIR). With the TIGRESS simulation framework we model the three-phase ISM with self-consistent star formation and feedback, and post-process outputs with chemistry and radiation transfer to generate synthetic CO (1-0) and (2-1) maps. Our models reproduce the observed CO excitation temperatures, line widths, and line ratios in nearby disk galaxies. XCO decreases with increasing metallicity, with a power-law slope of -0.8 for the (1-0) line and -0.5 for the (2-1) line. XCO also decreases at higher CRIR and is insensitive to the FUV radiation. As density increases, XCO first decreases owing to increasing excitation temperature and then increases when the emission is fully saturated. We provide fits between XCO and observable quantities such as the line ratio, peak antenna temperature, and line brightness, which probe local gas conditions. These fits, which allow for varying beam size, may be used in observations to calibrate out systematic biases. We also provide estimates of the CO-dark H2 fraction at different gas surface densities, observational sensitivities, and beam sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number142
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 10 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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