Volume 539, March 2012
|Number of page(s)||20|
|Published online||17 February 2012|
Star-formation laws in luminous infrared galaxies
New observational constraints on models⋆
1 Observatorio Astronómico Nacional (OAN)-Observatorio de Madrid, Alfonso XII, 3, 28014 Madrid, Spain
2 Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Ctra de Torrejón a Ajalvir, km 4, 28850 Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid, Spain
3 Instituto de Física de Cantabria, CSIC-UC, Avenida de los Castros s/n, 39005 Santander, Spain
4 Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstrasse 1, 85748 Garching, Germany
5 ESO & Joint ALMA Observatory, Alonso de Cordova 3107, Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
Received: 5 August 2011
Accepted: 28 November 2011
Context. The observational study of star-formation relations in galaxies is central for unraveling the related physical processes that are at work on local and global scales. It is still debated whether star formation can be described by a universal law that remains valid in different populations of galaxies.
Aims. We aim to expand the sample of extreme starbursts, represented by local luminous and ultra-luminous infrared galaxies (LIRGs and ULIRGs), with high-quality observations in the 1–0 line of HCN, which is taken as a proxy for the dense molecular gas content. The new data presented in this work allow us to enlarge in particular the number of LIRGs studied in HCN by a factor 3 compared to previous works. The chosen LIRG sample has a range of HCN luminosities that partly overlaps with that of the normal galaxy population. We study if a universal law can account for the star-formation relations observed for the dense molecular gas in normal star-forming galaxies and extreme starbursts and explore the validity of different theoretical prescriptions of the star-formation law.
Methods. We have used the IRAM 30 m telescope to observe a sample of 19 LIRGs in the 1–0 lines of CO, HCN and HCO+. The galaxies were extracted from a sample of local LIRGs with available high-quality and high-resolution images obtained at optical, near and mid IR wavelengths, which probe the star-formation activity. We therefore derived the star-formation rates using different tracers and determined the sizes of the star-forming regions of all targets.
Results. The analysis of the new data proves that the efficiency of star formation in the dense molecular gas (SFEdense) of extreme starbursts is a factor 3–4 higher compared to normal galaxies. Kennicutt-Schmidt (KS) power laws were also derived. We find a duality in KS laws that is further reinforced if we account for the likely different conversion factor for HCN (αHCN) in extreme starbursts and for the unobscured star-formation rate in normal galaxies. This result extends the more extreme bimodal behavior of star-formation laws that was derived from CO molecular lines by two recent surveys to the higher molecular densities probed by HCN lines.
Conclusions. We compared our observations with the predictions of theoretical models in which the efficiency of star formation is determined by the ratio of a constant star-formation rate per free-fall time (SFRff) to the local free-fall time (tff). We find that it is possible to fit the observed differences in the SFEdense between normal galaxies and LIRGs/ULIRGs using a common constant SFRff and a set of physically acceptable HCN densities, but only if SFRff ~ 0.005–0.01 and/or if αHCN is a factor of ~a few lower than our favored values. Star-formation recipes that explicitly depend on the galaxy global dynamical time scales do not significantly improve the fit to the new HCN data presented in this work.
Key words: galaxies: ISM / radio lines: ISM / galaxies: starburst / galaxies: star formation / radio lines: galaxies
© ESO, 2012
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