Cosmic-ray ionization of molecular clouds
Dipartimento di Astronomia e Scienza dello Spazio, Università di Firenze, Largo E. Fermi 2, 50125 Firenze, Italy e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 INAF - Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Largo E. Fermi 5, 50125 Firenze, Italy e-mail: email@example.com
3 University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, 94720, USA e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepted: 24 April 2009
Context. Low-energy cosmic rays are a fundamental source of ionization for molecular clouds, influencing their chemical, thermal, and dynamical evolution.
Aims. The purpose of this work is to explore the possibility that a low-energy component of cosmic rays, not directly measurable from the Earth, can account for the discrepancy between the ionization rate measured in diffuse and dense interstellar clouds.
Methods. We collected the most recent experimental and theoretical data on the cross sections for the production of H and He+ by electron and proton impact and discuss the available constraints on the cosmic-ray fluxes in the local interstellar medium. Starting from different extrapolations at low energies of the demodulated cosmic-ray proton and electron spectra, we computed the propagated spectra in molecular clouds in the continuous slowing-down approximation taking all the relevant energy loss processes into account.
Results. The theoretical value of the cosmic-ray ionization rate as a function of the column density of traversed matter agrees with the observational data only if the flux of either cosmic-ray electrons or of protons increases at low energies. The most successful models are characterized by a significant (or even dominant) contribution of the electron component to the ionization rate, in agreement with previous suggestions. However, the large spread of cosmic-ray ionization rates inferred from chemical models of molecular cloud cores remains to be explained.
Conclusions. Available data combined with simple propagation models support the existence of a low-energy component (below ~100 MeV) of cosmic-ray electrons or protons responsible for the ionization of molecular cloud cores and dense protostellar envelopes.
Key words: ISM: cosmic rays / ISM: clouds / atomic processes / molecular processes
© ESO, 2009