Unfolding the Laws of Star Formation: The Density Distribution of Molecular Clouds

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Science  11 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6180, pp. 183-185
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248724

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Mapping Stardust

A galaxy's structure throughout time depends largely on its ability to convert the raw material of molecular clouds into stars. One of the most influential properties in determining star formation rates is the distribution of densities among individual molecular clouds, which can be described by a probability density function of volume densities. Kainulainen et al. (p. 183) devised a method to quantify these distributions from empirical dust extinction maps of nearby clouds. The threshold for star formation in these observationally based calculations was significantly lower than theoretical predictions.