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Searching for multiple populations in massive young and intermediate age clusters

Martocchia, S (2020) Searching for multiple populations in massive young and intermediate age clusters. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Among the many mysteries of our Universe, one still unanswered question is how globular clusters form. Globular clusters are very dense agglomerates of hundreds of thousands of stars and they host some of the oldest known stars in our Universe. Since they are luminous, old and found in all massive galaxies, they are a fundamental piece of the puzzle to understand galaxy formation and evolution processes. Traditionally, globular clusters were thought to be simple stellar systems, in which all stars were born at the same time and have the same chemical composition. %Therefore, globular clusters have been considered the perfect laboratory to study how stars evolve. However, in the last few decades, it has been shown that stars within a given globular cluster display inhomogeneities in their chemistry. Every massive old globular cluster located in the Milky Way, for which high precision and deep observations were obtained, was found to host several different stellar populations, i.e. multiple populations. Each stellar population is characterized by specific chemical patterns observed in the atmospheres of individual stars. Only certain elements are found to vary, and they do not do so randomly, but rather the variations are observed to correlate between the elements. The stellar population that has enhanced nitrogen (N) content, also has enhanced sodium and helium abundances but has a depletion in carbon and oxygen, to cite a few examples. At the same time, the iron content is found to be constant among the different populations. Such chemical patterns are often called anomalies. More interestingly, it seems like such chemical anomalies are unique to globular cluster systems, i.e. dense stellar systems, since they are basically not found in other stars located in the field. Knowing how such multiple populations form and how they impact the evolution of globular clusters is crucial to understand the formation of stars and clusters themselves and, more broadly, the formation and evolution of galaxies. Many theoretical scenarios have been proposed to explain the origin of the chemical anomalies in globular clusters. Most models treat the origin of this phenomenon as multiple events of star formation. In such models, a first generation of stars forms from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud which is homogeneous in its chemical composition. The winds of the massive stars from this first generation sink in the centre of the cluster to collapse and provide material for a second generation of stars, which then forms with a different chemical composition. While theoretically straightforward, such scenarios (which involve many types of massive stars) fail in reproducing many of the observed properties of multiple populations in globular clusters. Hence, the formation mechanism for the origin of multiple populations remains an open question. Most studies of multiple populations focused only on ancient globular clusters, aged up to $\sim$13 Gyr. However, many dense and massive younger star clusters are observed in nearby galaxies. Is the multiple populations phenomenon limited to the ancient globular clusters, i.e. could this be a cosmological effect? The goal of this thesis has been expanding the search for multiple populations to star clusters that are significantly younger than the old globular clusters, i.e. up to 10 times younger. Indeed, a compelling line of investigation is to look for multiple populations depending on certain global properties of the clusters, such as age, mass, metallicity. The first major result presented in this work is that multiple populations are found also in the young clusters, down to $\sim$2 Gyr old objects, showing that the phenomenon of multiple populations is not only restricted to the early Universe. Another interesting result I report is that the extent of the multiple populations (in chemical abundance spread) is a strong function of age, with older clusters having larger chemical variations. Additionally, I show that there is no difference in age between the populations in a young star cluster. Such results represent fundamental constraints for the origin of multiple populations and might point towards a new and fresh direction into the onset of this complex phenomenon. An important and related question is whether the young massive star clusters are the same type of stellar systems as the ancient globular clusters, just observed at a different stage of their lifetimes. If confirmed, this could provide important constraints on star cluster formation studies. Therefore, in this thesis I explored clusters at younger ages in order to address the fundamental question whether the star (and cluster) formation conditions were different in the early Universe. The results presented here represent an important hint that ancient and young clusters share the same origin and are only separated in age. I show that star clusters do not require special conditions in which to form, so that they can be used as tracers for the formation and evolution of galaxies.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: astrophysics; stars; globular clusters; multiple populations; star clusters; abundance anomalies
Subjects: Q Science > QB Astronomy
Divisions: Astrophysics Research Institute
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2020 22:29
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2022 16:04
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00013184
Supervisors: Bastian, N and Salaris, M
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13184
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