The California Molecular Cloud

Charles J. Lada
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Marco Lombardi
European Southern Observatory

Joao Alves
Calar Alto Observatory

We present an analysis of wide-field infrared extinction maps of a region in Perseus just north of the Taurus-Auriga dark cloud complex. From this analysis we have identified a massive, nearby, but previously unrecognized, giant molecular cloud (GMC). Both a uniform foreground star density and measurements of the cloud's velocity field from CO observations indicate that this cloud is likely a coherent structure at a single distance. From comparison of foreground star counts with Galactic models we derive a distance of 450 +/- 23 parsecs to the cloud. At this distance the cloud extends over roughly 80 pc and has a mass of approximately 10^5 solar masses, rivaling the Orion (A) Molecular Cloud as the largest and most massive GMC in the solar neighborhood. Although surprisingly similar in mass and size to the more famous Orion Molecular Cloud (OMC) the newly recognized cloud displays significantly less star formation activity with more than an order of magnitude fewer YSOs than found in the OMC, suggesting that both the level of star formation and perhaps the star formation rate in this cloud are an order of magnitude or more lower than in the OMC. Analysis of extinction maps of both clouds shows that the new cloud contains only 10% the amount of high extinction (A_K > 1.0 mag) material as is found in the OMC. This, in turn, suggests that the level of star formation activity and perhaps the star formation rate in these two clouds may be directly proportional to the total amount of high extinction material and presumably high density gas within them and that there might be a density threshold for star formation on the order of a few times 10^4 H_2 molecules per cc.

in The Astrophysical Journal, September 2009, in press.


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