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Paper: Origins of Giant Molecular Clouds
Volume: 317, Milky Way Surveys: The Structure and Evolution of Our Galaxy
Page: 248
Authors: Ostriker, E.C.; Kim, W.-T.
Abstract: The material in giant molecular clouds (GMCs) constitutes a large proportion of the Milky Way's ISM, and determining how cloud-formation processes affect the properties and spatial distribution of GMCs is important to understanding the structure of the Milky Way. Understanding the formation of GMCs is also key to theories of galactic evolution because it represents the first stage in the overall process of star formation. Several lines of evidence point to a need for relatively rapid GMC formation via coherent dynamical instabilities, and both Parker- and Jeans- type modes have been proposed as potential cloud-forming mechanisms. Recent numerical simulations have investigated these instabilities directly, using spatially-localized models of the interstellar medium that self-consistently incorporate rotational shear, self-gravity, and magnetic fields, as well as the effects of stellar spiral arms. These models have demonstrated that condensation via gravitational instability, aided by magnetic torques, is the most likely candidate for explaining the formation of GMCs. The models have also shown that spiral arm “spurs” — clearly seen as regular projections from dust lanes in at least one external galaxy — may originate as magneto-gravitational instabilities of the ISM within the dense portions of stellar spiral arms. This raises the interesting possibility that spur structures with similar dynamical origins could potentially be present in the Milky Way as well.
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