Gamma-Ray Observations of the Orion Molecular Clouds with the Fermi Large Area Telescope

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We report on the gamma-ray observations of giant molecular clouds Orion A and B with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on board the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The gamma-ray emission in the energy band between ~100 MeV and ~100 GeV is predicted to trace the gas mass distribution in the clouds through nuclear interactions between the Galactic cosmic rays (CRs) and interstellar gas. The gamma-ray production cross-section for the nuclear interaction is known to ~10% precision which makes the LAT a powerful tool to measure the gas mass column density distribution of molecular clouds for a known CR intensity. We present here such distributions for Orion A and B, and correlate them with those of the velocity-integrated CO intensity (W CO) at a 1° × 1° pixel level. The correlation is found to be linear over a W CO range of ~10-fold when divided in three regions, suggesting penetration of nuclear CRs to most of the cloud volumes. The W CO-to-mass conversion factor, X CO, is found to be ~2.3 × 1020 cm-2(K km s–1)–1 for the high-longitude part of Orion A (l > 212°), ~1.7 times higher than ~1.3 × 1020 found for the rest of Orion A and B. We interpret the apparent high X CO in the high-longitude region of Orion A in the light of recent works proposing a nonlinear relation between H2 and CO densities in the diffuse molecular gas. W CO decreases faster than the H2 column density in the region making the gas "darker" to W CO.


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