The Fractal Distribution of H II Regions in Disk Galaxies

Sánchez, N., Alfaro, E.J.
The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, Volume 178, Issue 1, pp. 1-19.


It is known that interstellar gas has a fractal structure in a wide range of spatial scales with a fractal dimension that seems to be a constant around Df~=2.7. It is expected that stars forming from this fractal medium exhibit similar fractal patterns. Here we address this issue by quantifying the degree to which star-forming events are clumped. We develop, test, and apply a precise and accurate technique to calculate the correlation dimension Dc of the distribution of H II regions in a sample of disk galaxies. We find that the determination of Dc is limited by the number of H II regions, since if there are <~100 regions available, then a bias tending to underestimate the dimension is produced. The reliable results are distributed in the range 1.5<~Dc<~2.0 with an average value <Dc>=1.81. This corresponds to a three-dimensional dimension of <Df>=2.73, very similar to the value measured in the interstellar clouds. However, we get significant variations in the fractal dimension among galaxies, contrary to the universal picture sometimes claimed in literature. The fractal dimension exhibits a weak but significant correlation with the absolute magnitude and, to a lesser extent, with the galactic radius. The faintest galaxies tend to distribute their H II regions in more clustered (less uniform) patterns. The fractal dimension for the brightest H II regions within the same galaxy seems to be smaller than for the faintest ones, suggesting some kind of evolutionary effect, but the obtained correlation remains unchanged if only the brightest regions are taken into account.