Körtgen, Federrath & Banerjee (2019) – On the shape and completeness of the column density probability distribution function of molecular clouds

Both observational and theoretical research over the past decade has demonstrated that the probability distribution function (PDF) of the gas density in turbulent molecular clouds is a key ingredient for understanding star formation. It has recently been argued that the PDF of molecular clouds is a pure power-law distribution. It has been claimed that the log-normal part is ruled out when using only the part of the PDF up/down to which it is complete, that is where the column density contours are still closed. By using the results from high-resolution magnetohydrodynamical simulations of molecular cloud formation and evolution, we find that the column density PDF is indeed composed of a log-normal and, if including self-gravity, a power-law part. We show that insufficient sampling of a molecular cloud results in closed contours that cut-off the log-normal part. In contrast, systematically increasing the field of view and sampling the entire cloud yields a completeness limit at the lower column densities, which also recovers the log-normal part. This demonstrates that the field of view must be sufficiently large for the PDF to be complete down to its log-normal part, which has important implications for predictions of star formation activity based on the PDF.

Körtgen, Bastian; Federrath, Christoph; Banerjee, Robi
2019, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 482, 5233