Institution(s): 1. University of New South Wales
The probability density function (PDF) is a simple analytical tool for determining the hierarchical spatial structure of molecular clouds. It has been used frequently in recent years with dust continuum emission, such as that from the Herschel space telescope and ALMA. These dust column density PDFs universally show a log-normal distribution in low column density gas, characteristic of unbound turbulent gas, and a power-law tail at high column densities, indicating the presence of gravitationally bound gas. We have recently conducted a PDF analysis of the molecular gas in the G333 and Vela C giant molecular cloud complexes, using transitions of CO, HCN, HNC, HCO+ and N2H+.
The results show that CO and its isotopologues trace mostly the log-normal part of the PDF, while HCN and HCO+ trace both a log-normal part and a power law part to the distribution. On the other hand, HNC and N2H+ mostly trace only the power law tail. The difference between the PDFs of HCN and HNC is surprising, as is the similarity between HNC and the N2H+ PDFs. The most likely explanation for the similar distributions of HNC and N2H+ is that N2H+ is known to be enhanced in cool gas below 20K, where CO is depleted, while the reaction that forms HNC or HCN favours the former at similar low temperatures. The lack of evidence for a power law tail in 13CO and C18O, in conjunction for the results for the N2H+ PDF suggest that depletion of CO in the dense cores of these molecular clouds is significant. In conclusion, the PDF has proved to be a surprisingly useful tool for investigating not only the spatial distribution of molecular gas, but also the wide scale chemistry of molecular clouds.