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Revealing the CO X-factor in dark molecular gas through sensitive ALMA absorption observations

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 12:53 authored by Luo, G, Li, D, Tang, N, Joanne Dawson, John DickeyJohn Dickey, Bronfman, L, Qin, SL, Gibson, SJ, Plambeck, R, Finger, R, Green, A, Mardones, D, Koo, BC, Lo, N

Carbon-bearing molecules, particularly CO, have been widely used as tracers of molecular gas in the interstellar medium (ISM). In this work, we aim to study the properties of molecules in diffuse, cold environments, where CO tends to be underabundant and/or subthermally excited. We performed one of the most sensitive (down to and ) submillimeter molecular absorption line observations toward 13 continuum sources with the ALMA. CO absorption was detected in diffuse ISM down to and HCO+ was detected down to , where atomic gas and dark molecular gas start to dominate. Multiple transitions measured in absorption toward 3C454.3 allow for a direct determination of excitation temperatures Tex of 4.1 and 2.7 K, for CO and for HCO+, respectively, which are close to the cosmic microwave background and explain their being undercounted in emission surveys. A stronger linear correlation was found between and (Pearson correlation coefficient P~0.93) than that of NCOand (P~0.33), suggesting HCO+ is a better tracer of H2 than CO in diffuse gas. The derived CO-to-H2 conversion factor (the CO X-factor) of (14+-3)x1020 cm-2 (K )-1 is approximately six times larger than the average value found in the Milky Way.


Publication title

Astrophysical Journal Letters








School of Natural Sciences


Institute of Physics Publishing, Ltd

Place of publication

United Kingdom

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