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Astrophysical Journal Letters





Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array 12CO(J = 1–0) observations are used to study the cold molecular ISM of the Cartwheel ring galaxy and its relation to H i and massive star formation (SF). CO moment maps find (2.69 ± 0.05) × 109 M⊙ of H2 associated with the inner ring (72%) and nucleus (28%) for a Galactic ICO-to- conversion factor (αCO). The spokes and disk are not detected. Analysis of the inner ring's CO kinematics shows it to be expanding (Vexp = 68.9 ± 4.9 km s−1), implying an ≈70 Myr age. Stack averaging reveals CO emission in the starburst outer ring for the first time, but only where H i surface density (ΣH i) is high, representing M⊙ for a metallicity-appropriate αCO, giving small (3.7 M⊙ pc−2), molecular fraction (fmol = 0.10), and H2 depletion timescales (τmol ≈ 50–600 Myr). Elsewhere in the outer ring M⊙ pc−2, fmol 0.1 and τmol 140–540 Myr (all 3σ). The inner ring and nucleus are H2 dominated and are consistent with local spiral SF laws. ΣSFR in the outer ring appears independent of ΣH i, or The ISM's long confinement in the robustly star-forming rings of the Cartwheel and AM0644-741 may result in either a large diffuse H2 component or an abundance of CO-faint low column density molecular clouds. The H2 content of evolved starburst rings may therefore be substantially larger. Due to its lower ΣSFR and age, the Cartwheel's inner ring has yet to reach this state. Alternately, the outer ring may trigger efficient SF in a H i-dominated ISM.


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