Star cluster progenitors are dynamically decoupled from their parent molecular cloudsNicolas Peretto, Andrew J Rigby, Fabien Louvet, Gary A Fuller, Alessio Traficante, Mathilde Gaudel
- Space and Planetary Science
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
The formation of stellar clusters dictates the pace at which galaxies evolve, and solving the question of their formation will undoubtedly lead to a better understanding of the Universe as a whole. While it is well known that star clusters form within parsec-scale overdensities of interstellar molecular gas called clumps, it is, however, unclear whether these clumps represent the high-density tip of a continuous gaseous flow that gradually leads towards the formation of stars, or a transition within the gas physical properties. Here, we present a unique analysis of a sample of 27 infrared dark clouds embedded within 24 individual molecular clouds that combine a large set of observations, allowing us to compute the mass and velocity dispersion profiles of each, from the scale of tens of parsecs down to the scale of tenths of a parsec. These profiles reveal that the vast majority of the clouds, if not all, are consistent with being self-gravitating on all scales, and that the clumps, on parsec-scale, are often dynamically decoupled from their surrounding molecular clouds, exhibiting steeper density profiles (ρ∝r−2) and flat velocity dispersion profiles (σ∝r0), clearly departing from Larson’s relations. These findings suggest that the formation of star clusters correspond to a transition regime within the properties of the self-gravitating molecular gas. We propose that this transition regime is one that corresponds to the gravitational collapse of parsec-scale clumps within otherwise stable molecular clouds.