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Journal Article

Stellar structures, molecular gas, and star formation across the PHANGS sample of nearby galaxies


Schruba,  A.
Infrared and Submillimeter Astronomy, MPI for Extraterrestrial Physics, Max Planck Society;

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Querejeta, M., Schinnerer, E., Meidt, S., Sun, J., Leroy, A. K., Emsellem, E., et al. (2021). Stellar structures, molecular gas, and star formation across the PHANGS sample of nearby galaxies. Astronomy and Astrophysics, 656: A133. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/202140695.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-E4F0-6
We identify stellar structures in the PHANGS sample of 74 nearby galaxies and construct morphological masks of sub-galactic environments based on Spitzer 3.6 μm images. At the simplest level, we distinguish five environments: centres, bars, spiral arms, interarm regions, and discs without strong spirals. Slightly more sophisticated masks include rings and lenses, which are publicly released but not explicitly used in this paper. We examine trends with environment in the molecular gas content, star formation rate, and depletion time using PHANGS–ALMA CO(2–1) intensity maps and tracers of star formation. The interarm regions and discs without strong spirals clearly dominate in area, whereas molecular gas and star formation are quite evenly distributed among the five basic environments. We reproduce the molecular Kennicutt–Schmidt relation with a slope compatible with unity within the uncertainties and without significant slope differences among environments. In contrast to what has been suggested by early studies, we find that bars are not always deserts devoid of gas and star formation, but instead they show large diversity. Similarly, spiral arms do not account for most of the gas and star formation in disc galaxies, and they do not have shorter depletion times than the interarm regions. Spiral arms accumulate gas and star formation, without systematically boosting the star formation efficiency. Centres harbour remarkably high surface densities and on average shorter depletion times than other environments. Centres of barred galaxies show higher surface densities and wider distributions compared to the outer disc; yet, depletion times are similar to unbarred galaxies, suggesting highly intermittent periods of star formation when bars episodically drive gas inflow, without enhancing the central star formation efficiency permanently. In conclusion, we provide quantitative evidence that stellar structures in galaxies strongly affect the organisation of molecular gas and star formation, but their impact on star formation efficiency is more subtle.