The “tuning-fork” (TF) analysis of CO and Hα emission has been used to estimate the lifetimes of molecular clouds in nearby galaxies. With simple model calculations, we show that this analysis does not necessarily estimate cloud lifetimes, but instead captures a duration of the cloud evolutionary cycle, from dormant to star-forming, and then back to a dormant phase. We adopt a hypothetical setup in which molecular clouds (e.g., traced in CO) live forever and form stars (e.g., H ii regions) at some frequency, which then drift away from the clouds. The TF analysis still returns a timescale for the immortal clouds. This model requires drifting motion to separate the newborn stars from the clouds, and we discuss its origin. We also discuss the physical origin of the characteristic spatial separation term in the TF analysis and a bias due to systematic error in the determination of the reference timescale.

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