The CO-to-H2 Conversion Factor from Infrared Dust Emission across the Local Group

Leroy, Adam K., Bolatto, Alberto, Gordon, Karl, Sandstrom, Karin, Gratier, Pierre, Rosolowsky, Erik, Engelbracht, Charles W., Mizuno, Norikazu, Corbelli, Edvige, Fukui, Yasuo, & Kawamura, Akiko
2011, The Astrophysical Journal, 737, 12

We estimate the conversion factor relating CO emission to H2 mass, αCO, in five Local Group galaxies that span approximately an order of magnitude in metallicity—M 31, M 33, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), NGC 6822, and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). We model the dust mass along the line of sight from infrared (IR) emission and then solve for the αCO that best allows a single gas-to-dust ratio (δGDR) to describe each system. This approach remains sensitive to CO-dark envelopes H2 surrounding molecular clouds. In M 31, M 33, and the LMC we find αCO ≈ 3-9 M sun pc-2 (K km s-1)-1, consistent with the Milky Way value within the uncertainties. The two lowest metallicity galaxies in our sample, NGC 6822 and the SMC (12 + log (O/H) ≈ 8.2 and 8.0), exhibit a much higher αCO. Our best estimates are αNGC6822 CO ≈ 30 M sun pc-2 (K km s-1)-1 and αSMC CO ≈ 70 M sun pc-2 (K km s-1)-1. These results are consistent with the conversion factor becoming a strong function of metallicity around 12 + log (O/H) ~ 8.4-8.2. We favor an interpretation where decreased dust shielding leads to the dominance of CO-free envelopes around molecular clouds below this metallicity.


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