Mapping nearby young stellar structures and their star formation histories

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Date

2021-12-02

Authors

Kerr, Ronan Murdoch Paterson

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Abstract

Young stellar associations hold a star formation record that can persist for millions of years, revealing the progression of star formation long after the dispersal of the natal cloud. To identify nearby young stellar populations that trace this progression, we have designed a comprehensive framework for the identification of young stars, and use it to identify ~3x10⁴ candidate young stars within a distance of 333 pc using Gaia DR2. Applying the HDBSCAN clustering algorithm to this sample, we identify 27 top-level groups, nearly half of which have little to no presence in previous literature. Ten of these groups have visible substructure, including notable young associations such as Orion, Perseus, Taurus, and Sco-Cen. We provide a complete subclustering analysis on all groups with substructure, using age estimates to reveal each region's star formation history. The patterns we reveal include an apparent star formation origin for Sco-Cen along a semicircular arc, as well as clear evidence for sequential star formation moving away from that arc with a propagation speed of ~4 km s⁻¹ (~4 pc Myr⁻¹). We also identify earlier bursts of star formation in Perseus and Taurus that predate current, kinematically identical active star-forming events, suggesting that the mechanisms that collect gas can spark multiple generations of star formation, punctuated by gas dispersal and cloud regrowth. The large spatial scales and long temporal scales on which we observe star formation offer a bridge between the processes within individual molecular clouds and the broad forces guiding star formation at galactic scales.

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