Near-infrared molecular hydrogen emission from the central regions of galaxies: Regulated physical conditions in the interstellar medium

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The central regions of many interacting and early-type spiral galaxies are actively forming stars. This process affects the physical and chemical properties of the local interstellar medium, as well as the evolution of the galaxies. We observed near-infrared H emission lines: v = 1-0 S(1), 3-2 S(3), 1-0 S(0), and 2-1 S(1) from the central ∼1 kpc regions of the archetypical starburst galaxies M82 and NGC 253 and the less dramatic but still vigorously star-forming galaxies NGC 6946 and IC 342. Like the far-infrared continuum luminosity, the near-infrared H emission luminosity can directly trace the amount of star formation activity because the H emission lines arise from the interaction between hot and young stars and nearby neutral clouds. The observed H line ratios show that both thermal excitation and nonthermal excitation are responsible for the emission lines but that the great majority of the near-infrared H line emission in these galaxies arises from energy states excited by ultraviolet fluorescence. The derived physical conditions, e.g., far-ultraviolet radiation field and gas density, from [C II] and [O I] lines and far-infrared continuum observations when used as inputs to photodissociation models also explain the luminosity of the observed H 1-0 S(1) line. The ratio of the H 1-0 S(1) line to far-IR continuum luminosity is remarkably constant over a broad range of galaxy luminosities: L /L ≳ 10 , in normal late-type galaxies (including the Galactic center), in nearby starburst galaxies, and in luminous IR galaxies (LIRGs: L > 10 L⊙). Examining this constant ratio in the context of photodissociation region models, we conclude that it implies that the strength of the incident UV field on typical molecular clouds follows the gas density at the cloud surface. 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 H2 / FIR FIR -5 11

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Astrophysical Journal

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2 I



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