What drives gravitational instability in nearby star-forming spirals? The impact of CO and HI velocity dispersions
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2017

The velocity dispersion of cold interstellar gas, σ, is one of the quantities that most radically affect the onset of gravitational instabilities in galaxy discs, and the quantity that is most drastically approximated in stability analyses. Here we analyse the stability of a large sample of nearby star-forming spirals treating molecular gas, atomic gas and stars as three distinct components, and using radial profiles of σCO and σHI derived from HERA CO-Line Extragalactic Survey (HERACLES) and The H i Nearby Galaxy Survey (THINGS) observations. We show that the radial variations of σCO and σHI have a weak effect on the local stability level of galaxy discs, which remains remarkably flat and well above unity, but is low enough to ensure (marginal) instability against non-axisymmetric perturbations and gas dissipation. More importantly, the radial variation of σCO has a strong impact on the size of the regions over which gravitational instabilities develop, and results in a characteristic instability scale that is one order of magnitude larger than the Toomre length of molecular gas. Disc instabilities are driven, in fact, by the self-gravity of stars at kiloparsec scales. This is true across the entire optical disc of every galaxy in the sample, with a few exceptions. In the linear phase of the disc-instability process, stars and molecular gas are strongly coupled, and it is such a coupling that ultimately triggers local gravitational collapse/fragmentation in the molecular gas.

galaxies: ISM

galaxies: kinematics and dynamics


galaxies: star formation

ISM: kinematics and dynamics

stars: kinematics and dynamics


Alessandro Romeo

Chalmers, Rymd- och geovetenskap, Radioastronomi och astrofysik

Keoikantse Moses Mogotsi

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

0035-8711 (ISSN) 1365-2966 (eISSN)

Vol. 469 1 286-294


Astronomi, astrofysik och kosmologi


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