Institution(s): 1. National Research Council of Canada
It has been long recognized that stars form out of gas within the interstellar mediums of galaxies. Though earlier treatments focused on the relationship between star formation and the surface densities of available molecular gas in disks (e.g., the Kennicutt-Schmidt law), more recently the relevance of dense molecular gas within galaxies has become better appreciated. In this short review talk, I will provide an overview of how this shift in thinking in the last few years has occurred through observations. For example, strong correlations have been seen between the luminosities of HCN 1-0 (tracing dense gas) and infrared emission (tracing young stars) over nearly ten orders of magnitude. Also, the number of young stellar objects in nearby clouds seems to be related to the amount of mass in a cloud above a column density 'threshold' of Av ≈ 6 (surface density ≈ 120 Msun/pc2). Indeed, recent far-infrared/submillimetre continuum data of nearby molecular clouds from Herschel have shown strong links between star formation and filamentary structures in clouds above a critical mass per unit length of ~16 Msun/pc (Av ≈ 8), providing a possible origin of the observed 'threshold.' Also, the current star formation rate in a dense molecular cloud clump, as traced by the local number of Class 0 objects, appears to be highly correlated with the relative fraction of high column density material in the clump. Prospects for future exploration of star-formation thresholds will also be discussed.