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Published June 1, 2016 | Submitted + Published
Journal Article Open

Evolution of Molecular and Atomic Gas Phases in the Milky Way


We analyze radial and azimuthal variations of the phase balance between the molecular and atomic interstellar medium (ISM) in the Milky Way (MW) using archival CO(J = 1-0) and HI 21 cm data. In particular, the azimuthal variations—between the spiral arm and interarm regions—are analyzed without any explicit definition of the spiral arm locations. We show that the molecular gas mass fraction, i.e., f_(mol)= Σ_H_2/Σ_(HI) + Σ_H_2, varies predominantly in the radial direction: starting from ~ 100 at the center, remaining 50% to R ~ 6kpc and decreasing to ~10%–20% at R = 8.5 kpc when averaged over the whole disk thickness (from ~100% to ≳ 60%, then to ~50% in the midplane). Azimuthal, arm-interarm variations are secondary: only ~ 20% in the globally molecule-dominated inner MW, but becoming larger, ~40%–50%, in the atom-dominated outskirts. This suggests that in the inner MW the gas remains highly molecular (f_(mol) > 50%) as it moves from an interarm region into a spiral arm and back into the next interarm region. Stellar feedback does not dissociate molecules much, and the coagulation and fragmentation of molecular clouds dominate the evolution of the ISM at these radii. The trend differs in the outskirts where the gas phase is globally atomic (f_(mol) > 50%). The HI and H_2 phases cycle through spiral arm passage there. These different regimes of ISM evolution are also seen in external galaxies (e.g., the LMC, M33, and M51). We explain the radial gradient of f_(mol) using a simple flow continuity model. The effects of spiral arms on this analysis are illustrated in the Appendix.

Additional Information

© 2016 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2015 October 9; accepted 2016 March 18; published 2016 May 24. We thank Roberta Paladini, Tom Dame, Lena Murchikova, and Jim Barrett for useful discussions. We also thank the anonymous referee for careful reading. JK thanks California Institute of Technology for hospitality during extended visits. This work is supported by the NSF through grant AST-1211680. JK also acknowledges the supports from NASA through grants NNX09AF40G, NNX14AF74G, a Herschel Space Observatory grant, and an Hubble Space Telescope grant.

Attached Files

Published - AstroJKodaJetal.pdf

Submitted - 1604.01053v1.pdf


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