Can the removal of molecular cloud envelopes by external feedback affect the efficiency of star formation?

William E. Lucas, Ian A. Bonnell, Duncan H. Forgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


We investigate how star formation efficiency can be significantly decreased by the removal of a molecular cloud’s envelope by feedback from an external source. Feedback from star formation has difficulties halting the process in dense gas but can easily remove the less dense and warmer envelopes where star formation does not occur. However, the envelopes can play an important role keeping their host clouds bound by deepening the gravitational potential and providing a constraining pressure boundary. We use numerical simulations to show that removal of the cloud envelopes results in all cases in a fall in the star formation efficiency (SFE). At 1.38 free-fall times our 4 pc cloud simulation experienced a drop in the SFE from 16 to six percent, while our 5 pc cloud fell from 27 to 16 per cent. At the same time, our 3 pc cloud (the least bound) fell from an SFE of 5.67 per cent to zero when the envelope was lost. The star formation efficiency per free-fall time varied from zero to ≈0.25 according to α, defined to be the ratio of the kinetic plus thermal to gravitational energy, and irrespective of the absolute star forming mass available. Furthermore the fall in SFE associated with the loss of the envelope is found to even occur at later times. We conclude that the SFE will always fall should a star forming cloud lose its envelope due to stellar feedback, with less bound clouds suffering the greatest decrease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5011-5019
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Early online date24 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


  • Stars: formation
  • ISM: clouds
  • Accretion, accretion discs
  • Hydrodynamics


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