Star formation is one of the main drivers of galaxy evolution, but an understanding of this process remains elusive. This is caused by a lack of systematic observational constraints on cloud scales. Star formation in galaxies is expected to be highly dependent on the galactic structure and environment, as it results from a competition between mechanisms such as gravitational collapse, shear, spiral arm passages, cloud-cloud collisions, and feedback. A statistically representative sample of galaxies is therefore needed to probe the wide range of conditions under which stars form. I will present the first systematic characterisation of the evolutionary timeline of molecular clouds and star-forming regions, derived by applying the statistical method of Kruijssen & Longmore (2014) and Kruijssen et al. (2018) to homogeneous ALMA + optical observations at 50 pc resolution of a large sample of star- forming disc galaxies out to 17 Mpc (obtained in the context of the PHANGS collaboration). This method uses the multi-scale nature of the star formation relation to constrain the timeline and efficiencies for star formation and feedback on the cloud scale, across a wide variety of galactic environments. I will show that star formation is regulated by efficient stellar feedback, driving GMC dispersal on short timescales (1-5 Myr) due to radiation and stellar winds, prior to supernova explosions. This feedback limits GMC lifetimes to about one dynamical timescale (10-30 Myr), with integrated star formation efficiencies of only a few percent. Our findings reveal that galaxies consist of building blocks undergoing vigorous, feedback-driven lifecycles, that vary with the galactic environment and collectively define how galaxies form stars. These observations settle a long-standing question on the multi-scale lifecycle of gas and stars in galaxies, and open up the exciting prospect of studying cloud-scale star formation and feedback in galaxies across cosmic time.
Local contact. organization: S. Madden