The bolocam galactic plane survey. VIII. A mid-infrared kinematic distance discrimination method

Timothy P. Ellsworth-Bowers, Jason Glenn, Erik Rosolowsky, Steven Mairs, Neal J. Evans, Cara Battersby, Adam Ginsburg, Yancy L. Shirley, John Bally

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


We present a new distance estimation method for dust-continuum-identified molecular cloud clumps. Recent (sub-)millimeter Galactic plane surveys have cataloged tens of thousands of these objects, plausible precursors to stellar clusters, but detailed study of their physical properties requires robust distance determinations. We derive Bayesian distance probability density functions (DPDFs) for 770 objects from the Bolocam Galactic Plane Survey in the Galactic longitude range 7.°5 ≤ ℓ ≤ 65°. The DPDF formalism is based on kinematic distances, and uses any number of external data sets to place prior distance probabilities to resolve the kinematic distance ambiguity (KDA) for objects in the inner Galaxy. We present here priors related to the mid-infrared absorption of dust in dense molecular regions and the distribution of molecular gas in the Galactic disk. By assuming a numerical model of Galactic mid-infrared emission and simple radiative transfer, we match the morphology of (sub-)millimeter thermal dust emission with mid-infrared absorption to compute a prior DPDF for distance discrimination. Selecting objects first from (sub-)millimeter source catalogs avoids a bias towards the darkest infrared dark clouds (IRDCs) and extends the range of heliocentric distance probed by mid-infrared extinction and includes lower-contrast sources. We derive well-constrained KDA resolutions for 618 molecular cloud clumps, with approximately 15% placed at or beyond the tangent distance. Objects with mid-infrared contrast sufficient to be cataloged as IRDCs are generally placed at the near kinematic distance. Distance comparisons with Galactic Ring Survey KDA resolutions yield a 92% agreement. A face-on view of the Milky Way using resolved distances reveals sections of the Sagittarius and Scutum-Centaurus Arms. This KDA-resolution method for large catalogs of sources through the combination of (sub-)millimeter and mid-infrared observations of molecular cloud clumps is generally applicable to other dust-continuum Galactic plane surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 10 2013


  • Galaxy: kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxy: structure
  • ISM: clouds
  • dust, extinction
  • infrared: ISM
  • stars: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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