Volume 658, February 2022
|Number of page(s)||17|
|Section||Interstellar and circumstellar matter|
|Published online||27 January 2022|
Anomalous HCN emission from warm giant molecular clouds
Instituto de Física Fundamental (CSIC), Calle Serrano 121-123,
2 Univ. Rennes, CNRS, IPR (Institut de Physique de Rennes), UMR 6251, 35000 Rennes, France
Accepted: 30 October 2021
Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is considered a good tracer of the dense molecular gas that serves as fuel for star formation. However, recent large-scale surveys of giant molecular clouds (GMCs) have detected extended HCN rotational line emission far from star-forming cores. Such observations often spectroscopically resolve the HCN J = 1–0 (partially also the J = 2–1 and 3–2) hyperfine structure (HFS). A precise determination of the physical conditions of the gas requires treating the HFS line overlap effects. Here, we study the HCN HFS excitation and line emission using nonlocal radiative transfer models that include line overlaps and new HFS-resolved collisional rate coefficients for inelastic collisions of HCN with both para-H2 and ortho-H2 (computed via the scaled-infinite order sudden approximation up to Tk = 500 K). In addition, we account for the role of electron collisions in the HFS level excitation. We find that line overlap and opacity effects frequently produce anomalous HCN J = 1–0 HFS line intensity ratios (i.e., inconsistent with the common assumption of the same Tex for all HFS lines) as well as anomalous HFS line width ratios. Line overlap and electron collisions also enhance the excitation of the higher J rotational lines. Our models explain the anomalous HCN J = 1–0 HFS spectra observed in the Orion Bar and Horsehead photodissociation regions. As shown in previous studies, electron excitation becomes important for molecular gas with H2 densities below a few 105 cm−3 and electron abundances above ~10−5. We find that when electron collisions are dominant, the relative intensities of the HCN J = 1–0 HFS lines can be anomalous too. In particular, electron excitation can produce low-surface-brightness HCN emission from very extended but low-density gas in GMCs. The existence of such a widespread HCN emission component may affect the interpretation of the extragalactic relationship HCN luminosity versus star-formation rate. Alternatively, extended HCN emission may arise from dense star-forming cores and become resonantly scattered by large envelopes of lower density gas. There are two scenarios – namely, electron-assisted (weakly) collisionally excited versus scattering – that lead to different HCN J = 1–0 HFS intensity ratios, which can be tested on the basis of observations.
Key words: ISM: clouds / molecular processes / molecular data / line: formation / radiative transfer
© ESO 2022
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