Unfolding the laws of star formation: The density distribution of molecular clouds

Jouni Kainulainen*, Christoph Federrath, Thomas Henning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


The formation of stars shapes the structure and evolution of entire galaxies. The rate and efficiency of this process are affected substantially by the density structure of the individual molecular clouds in which stars form. The most fundamental measure of this structure is the probability density function of volume densities (ρ-PDF), which determines the star formation rates predicted with analytical models. This function has remained unconstrained by observations. We have developed an approach to quantify ρ-PDFs and establish their relation to star formation. The ρ-PDFs instigate a density threshold of star formation and allow us to quantify the star formation efficiency above it. The ρ-PDFs provide new constraints for star formation theories and correctly predict several key properties of the star-forming interstellar medium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-185
Number of pages3
Issue number6180
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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