Elizabeth J. Tasker, Jonathan C. Tan, Star Formation in Disk Galaxies. I. Formation and Evolution of Giant Molecular Clouds via Gravitational Instability and Cloud Collisions
Abstract [-]: We investigate the formation and evolution of giant molecular clouds (GMCs) in a Milky-Way-like disk galaxy with a flat rotation curve. We perform a series of 3D adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) numerical simulations that follow both the global evolution on scales of ~20kpc and resolve down to scales ~=100cm^-3 and track the evolution of individual clouds as they orbit through the galaxy from their birth to their eventual destruction via merger or via destructive collision with another cloud. After ~140Myr a large fraction of the gas in the disk has fragmented into clouds with masses ~10^6 Msun and a mass spectrum similar to that of Galactic GMCs. The disk settles into a quasi steady state in which gravitational scattering of clouds keeps the disk near the threshold of global gravitational instability. The cloud collision time is found to be a small fraction, ~1/5, of the orbital time, and this is an efficient mechanism to inject turbulence into the clouds. This helps to keep clouds only moderately gravitationally bound, with virial parameters of order unity. Many other observed GMC properties, such as mass surface density, angular momentum, velocity dispersion, and vertical distribution, can be accounted for in this simple model with no stellar feedback.