The Star Formaton Rates in Molecular Gas: Probing a Sleeping Giant
Understanding the physical factors controlling star formation rates in molecular gas is key to understanding both the origin of stars and the formation and evolution of galaxies. Recent research our group has done has revealed unexpectedly large variations in the star formation rates of nearby molecular clouds. Due to their proximity such clouds thus represent excellent laboratories for investigating the physical processes directly responsible for controlling the star formation rates in molecular gas.
What are the critical physical conditions that determine why some GMCs are characterized by extremely active star formation while others are very quiescent?
Obtain and analyze wide field near-and mid-infrared imaging, and millimeter-wave molecular-line surveys of a massive and quiescent GMC that we recently identified within only 0.4 kpc of the sun, a sleeping giant we call the California Molecular Cloud. Use measurments of infrared extinction, CO and other molecular tracers to obtain a complete description of the structure and physical state of the gas in the cloud (i.e., mass, density, pressure, temperature and kinematic structure). Compare these properties with those of well known GMCs actively forming stars to achieve a predictive understanding of the processes which govern the rates of star formation.