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The formation of high-mass stars and stellar clusters in the extreme environment of the Central Molecular Zone

Walker, DL (2017) The formation of high-mass stars and stellar clusters in the extreme environment of the Central Molecular Zone. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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The process of converting gas into stars underpins much of astrophysics, yet many fundamental questions surrounding this process remain unanswered. For example -- how sensitive is star formation to the local environmental conditions? How do massive and dense stellar clusters form, and how does this crowded environment influence the stars that form within it? How do the most massive stars form and is there an upper limit to the stellar initial mass function (IMF)? Answering questions such as these is crucial if we are to construct an end-to-end model of how stars form across the full range of conditions found throughout the Universe. The research described in this thesis presents a study that utilises a multi-scale approach to identifying and characterising the early precursors to young massive clusters and high-mass proto-stars, with a specific focus on the extreme environment in the inner few hundred parsecs of the Milky Way -- the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ). The primary sources of interest that are studied in detail belong to the Galactic centre dust ridge -- a group of six high-mass (M ~ 10^(4-5) Msun), dense (R ~ 1-3 pc, n > 10^(4) cm^(-3)), and quiescent molecular clouds. These properties make these clouds ideal candidates for representing the earliest stages of high-mass star and cluster formation. The research presented makes use of single-dish and interferometric far-infrared and (sub-)millimetre observations to study their global and small-scale properties. A comparison of the known young massive clusters (YMCs) and their likely progenitors (the dust ridge clouds) in the CMZ shows that the stellar content of YMCs is much more dense and centrally concentrated than the gas in the clouds. If these clouds are truly precursors to massive clusters, the resultant stellar population would have to undergo significant dynamical evolution to reach central densities that are typical of YMCs. This suggests that YMCs in the CMZ are unlikely to form monolithically. Extending this study to include YMCs in the Galactic disc again shows that the known population of YMC precursor clouds throughout the Galaxy are not sufficiently dense or central concentrated that they could form a cluster that then expands due to gas expulsion. The data also reveal an evolutionary trend, in which clouds contract and accrete gas towards their central regions along with concurrent star formation. This is argued to favour a conveyor-belt mode of YMC formation and is again not consistent with a monolithic formation event. High angular resolution observations of the dust ridge clouds with the Submillimeter Array are presented. They reveal an embedded population of compact and massive cores, ranging from ~ 50 - 2150 Msun within radii of ~ 0.1 - 0.25 pc. These are likely formation sites of high-mass stars and clusters, and are strong candidates for representing the initial conditions of extremely massive stars. Two of these cores are found to be young, high-mass proto-stars, while the remaining 13 are quiescent. Comparing these cores with high-mass proto-stars in the Galactic disc, along with models in which star formation is regulated by turbulence, shows that these cores are consistent with the idea that the critical density threshold for star formation is greater in the turbulent environment at the Galactic centre.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Star formation; Young massive clusters; High-mass star formation; Galactic centre; Central molecular zone; Molecular clouds; Interstellar medium; Radio astronomy
Subjects: Q Science > QB Astronomy
Q Science > QC Physics
Divisions: Astrophysics Research Institute
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2017 08:34
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2017 08:34
Supervisors: Longmore, S and Bastian, N and Moore, T
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/6949

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