The dynamical evolution of molecular clouds near the Galactic Centre -- III. Tidally--induced star formation in protocluster clouds

James E. Dale, J. M. Diederik Kruijssen, S. N. Longmore

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As part of a series of papers aimed at understanding the evolution of the Milky Way's Central Molecular Zone (CMZ), we present hydrodynamical simulations of turbulent molecular clouds orbiting in an accurate model of the gravitational potential extant there. We consider two sets of model clouds differing in the energy content of their velocity fields. In the first, self-virialized set, the turbulent kinetic energies are chosen to be close in magnitude to the clouds' self-gravitational potential energies. Comparison with isolated clouds evolving without an external potential shows that the self-virialized clouds are unable to withstand the compressive tidal field of the CMZ and rapidly collapse, forming stars much faster and reaching gas exhaustion after a small fraction of a Galactocentric orbit. In the second, tidally virialized, set of simulations, the clouds' turbulent kinetic energies are in equilibrium with the external tidal field. These models are better supported against the field and the stronger turbulence suppresses star formation. Our results strongly support the inference that anomalously low star formation rates in the CMZ are due primarily to high velocity dispersions in the molecular gas. The clouds follow open, eccentric orbits oscillating in all three spatial coordinates. We examine the consequences of the orbital dynamics, particularly pericentre passage, by performing companion simulations of clouds on circular orbits. The increased tidal forces at pericentre produce transient accelerations in star formation rates of at most a factor of 2.7. Our results demonstrate that modelling star formation in galactic centres requires the inclusion of tidal forces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3307–3326
Number of pages20
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Early online date2 Apr 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Apr 2019


  • astro-ph.GA
  • stars: formation
  • Galaxy: centre
  • ISM: evolution
  • galaxies: ISM
  • ISM: kinematics and dynamics
  • ISM: clouds


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