The Gas─Star Formation Cycle in Nearby Star-forming Galaxies. I. Assessment of Multi-scale Variations
The processes regulating star formation in galaxies are thought to act across a hierarchy of spatial scales. To connect extragalactic star formation relations from global and kiloparsec-scale measurements to recent cloud-scale resolution studies, we have developed a simple, robust method that quantifies the scale dependence of the relative spatial distributions of molecular gas and recent star formation. In this paper, we apply this method to eight galaxies with ∼1″ resolution molecular gas imaging from the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS─ALMA (PHANGS─ALMA) survey and PdBI Arcsecond Whirlpool Survey (PAWS) that have matched resolution, high-quality narrowband Hα imaging. At a common scale of 140 pc, our massive (log(M ⋆[M ☉]) = 9.3─10.7), normally star-forming (SFR[M ☉ yr−1] = 0.3─5.9) galaxies exhibit a significant reservoir of quiescent molecular gas not associated with star formation as traced by Hα emission. Galactic structures act as backbones for both molecular gas and H II region distributions. As we degrade the spatial resolution, the quiescent molecular gas disappears, with the most rapid changes occurring for resolutions up to ∼0.5 kpc. As the resolution becomes poorer, the morphological features become indistinct for spatial scales larger than ∼1 kpc. The method is a promising tool to search for relationships between the quiescent or star-forming molecular reservoir and galaxy properties, but requires a larger sample size to identify robust correlations between the star-forming molecular gas fraction and global galaxy parameters.