The "True" Column Density Distribution in Star-Forming Molecular Clouds

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The "True" Column Density Distribution in Star-Forming Molecular Clouds

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Title: The "True" Column Density Distribution in Star-Forming Molecular Clouds
Author: Goodman, Alyssa A.; Pineda, Jaime Eduardo; Schnee, Scott

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Citation: Goodman, Alyssa, A., Jaime E. Pineda, and Scott L. Schnee. 2009. The "true" column density distribution in star-forming molecular clouds. The Astrophysical Journal 692(1): 91-103.
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Abstract: We use the COMPLETE Survey's observations of the Perseus star-forming region to assess and intercompare the three methods used for measuring column density in molecular clouds: near-infrared (NIR) extinction mapping; thermal emission mapping in the far-IR; and mapping the intensity of CO isotopologues. Overall, the structures shown by all three tracers are morphologically similar, but important differences exist among the tracers. We find that the dust-based measures (NIR extinction and thermal emission) give similar, log-normal, distributions for the full \((\sim20 \ pc \ scale)\) Perseus region, once careful calibration corrections are made. We also compare dust- and gas-based column density distributions for physically meaningful subregions of Perseus, and we find significant variations in the distributions for those \((smaller, \sim few \ pc \ scale)\) regions. Even though we have used \(^{12}CO\) data to estimate excitation temperatures, and we have corrected for opacity, the \(^{13}CO\) maps seem unable to give column distributions that consistently resemble those from dust measures. We have edited out the effects of the shell around the B-star HD 278942 from the column density distribution comparisons. In that shell's interior and in the parts where it overlaps the molecular cloud, there appears to be a dearth of \(^{13}CO\), which is likely due either to \(^{13}CO\) not yet having had time to form in this young structure and/or destruction of \(^{13}CO\) in the molecular cloud by the HD 278942's wind and/or radiation. We conclude that the use of either dust or gas measures of column density without extreme attention to calibration (e.g., of thermal emission zero-levels) and artifacts (e.g., the shell) is more perilous than even experts might normally admit. And, the use of \(^{13}CO\) data to trace total column density in detail, even after proper calibration, is unavoidably limited in utility due to threshold, depletion, and opacity effects. If one's main aim is to map column density (rather than temperature or kinematics), then dust extinction seems the best probe, up to a limiting extinction caused by a dearth of sufficient background sources. Linear fits among all three tracers' estimates of column density are given, allowing us to quantify the inherent uncertainties
Published Version: doi:10.1088/0004-637X/692/1/91
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