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Cosmic-ray ionisation of dense molecular clouds

Abstract : Cosmic rays (CR) are of tremendous importance in the dynamical and chemical evolution of interstellar molecular clouds, where stars and planets form. CRs are likely accelerated in the shells of supernova remnants (SNR), thus molecular clouds nearby can be irradiated by intense fluxes of CRs. CR protons have two major effects on dense molecular clouds: 1) when they encounter the dense medium, high-energy protons (>280 MeV) create pions that decay into gamma-rays. This process makes SNR-molecular cloud associations intense GeV and/or TeV sources whose spectra mimic the CR spectrum. 2) at lower energies, CRs penetrate the cloud and ionise the gas, leading to the formation of molecular species characteristic of the presence of CRs, called tracers of the ionisation. Studying these tracers gives information on low-energy CRs that are unaccessible to any other observations. I studied the CR ionisation of molecular clouds next to three SNRs: W28, W51C and W44. These SNRs are known to be interacting with the nearby clouds, from the presence of shocked gas, OH masers and pion-decay induced gamma-ray emission. My work includes millimeter observations and chemical modeling of tracers of the ionisation in these dense molecular clouds. In these three regions, we determined an enhanced CR ionisation rate, supporting the hypothesis of an origin of the CRs in the SNR nearby. The evolution of the CR ionisation rate with the distance to the SNR brings valuable constraints on the propagation properties of low-energy CRs. The method used relies on observations of the molecular ions HCO+ and DCO+, which shows crucial limitations at high ionisation. Therefore, I investigated, both through modeling and observations, the chemical abundances of several other species to try and identity alternative tracers of the ionisation. In particular, in the W44 region, observations of N2H+ bring additional constraints on the physical conditions, volatile abundances in the cloud, and the ionisation state. This research brought valuable insight into the CR induced chemistry in the interstellar medium. It also brought new perspectives of interdisciplinary research towards the understanding of CRs, from millimeter to gamma-ray observations.
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Solenn Vaupré. Cosmic-ray ionisation of dense molecular clouds. Astrophysics [astro-ph]. Université Grenoble Alpes, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015GREAY049⟩. ⟨tel-01273899⟩

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