Three-dimensional Shape Explains Star Formation Mystery of California and Orion A
Journal article, 2022

The new Gaia data release (EDR3) with improved astrometry has opened a new era in studying our Milky Way in fine detail. We use Gaia EDR3 astrometry together with 2MASS and WISE photometry to study two of the most massive molecular clouds in the solar vicinity: Orion A and California. Despite having remarkable similarities in the plane of the sky in terms of shape, size, and extinction, California has an order of magnitude lower star formation efficiency. We use our state-of-the-art dust mapping technique to derive the detailed three-dimensional (3D) structure of the two clouds, taking into account both distance and extinction uncertainties, and a full 3D spatial correlation between neighboring points. We discover that, despite the apparent filamentary structure in the plane of the sky, California is a flat 120 pc-long sheet extending from 410 to 530 pc. We show that not only Orion A and California differ substantially in their 3D shapes, but also Orion A has considerably higher density substructures in 3D than California. This result presents a compelling reason why the two clouds have different star formation activities. We also demonstrate how the viewing angle of California can substantially change the cloud's position in the Kennicutt-Schmidt relation. This underlines the importance of 3D information in interpreting star formation relations and challenges studies that rely solely on the column density thresholds to determine star formation activities in molecular clouds. Finally, we provide accurate distance estimates to multiple lines of sight toward various parts of the two clouds.


Sara Rezaeikhoshbakht

Max Planck Society

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Astronomy and Plasmaphysics

Jouni Kainulainen

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Astronomy and Plasmaphysics

Astrophysical Journal Letters

2041-8205 (ISSN) 2041-8213 (eISSN)

Vol. 930 2 L22

PROMISE Origins of the Molecular Cloud Structure

European Commission (EC) (EC/H2020/639459), 2016-01-01 -- 2021-01-31.

Subject Categories

Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology

Computer Vision and Robotics (Autonomous Systems)

Geosciences, Multidisciplinary



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