Modelling CO formation in the turbulent interstellar medium

S. C.O. Glover*, C. Federrath, M. M.Mac Low, R. S. Klessen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

284 Citations (Scopus)


We present results from high-resolution three-dimensional simulations of turbulent interstellar gas that self-consistently follow its coupled thermal, chemical and dynamical evolution, with a particular focus on the formation and destruction of H2 and CO. We quantify the formation time-scales for H2 and CO in physical conditions corresponding to those found in nearby giant molecular clouds, and show that both species form rapidly, with chemical time-scales that are comparable to the dynamical time-scale of the gas. We also investigate the spatial distributions of H2 and CO, and how they relate to the underlying gas distribution. We show that H2 is a good tracer of the gas distribution, but that the relationship between CO abundance and gas density is more complex. The CO abundance is not well-correlated with either the gas number density n or the visual extinction AV: both have a large influence on the CO abundance, but the inhomogeneous nature of the density field produced by the turbulence means that n and AV are only poorly correlated. There is a large scatter in AV, and hence CO abundance, for gas with any particular density, and similarly a large scatter in density and CO abundance for gas with any particular visual extinction. This will have important consequences for the interpretation of the CO emission observed from real molecular clouds. Finally, we also examine the temperature structure of the simulated gas. We show that the molecular gas is not isothermal. Most of it has a temperature in the range of 10-20 K, but there is also a significant fraction of warmer gas, located in low-extinction regions where photoelectric heating remains effective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-29
Number of pages28
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes


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