Molecular gas and the dynamics of galaxies

Research paper by F. Combes

Indexed on: 01 Feb '99Published on: 01 Feb '99Published in: Astrophysics


In this review, I discuss some highlights of recent research on molecular gas in galaxies; large-scale CO maps of nearby galaxies are being made, which extend our knowledge on global properties, radial gradients, and spiral structure of the molecular ISM. Very high resolution are provided by the interferometers, that reveal high velocity gradients in galaxy nuclei, and formation of embedded structures, like bars within bars. Observation of the CO and other lines in starburst galaxies have questioned the H2-to-CO conversion factor. Surveys of dwarfs have shown how the conversion factor depends on metallicity. The molecular content is not deficient in galaxy clusters, as is the atomic gas. Galaxy interactions are very effective to enhance gas concentrations and trigger starbursts. Nuclear disks or rings are frequently observed, that concentrate the star formation activity. Since the density of starbursting galaxies is strongly increasing with redshift, the CO lines are a privileged tool to follow evolution of galaxies and observe the ISM dynamics at high redshift: due to the high excitation of the molecular gas, the stronger high-$J$ CO lines are redshifted into the observable band, which facilitates the detection.