The hierarchical formation of a stellar cluster

Ian Alexander Bonnell, MR Bate, SG Vine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

285 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Recent surveys of star-forming regions have shown that most stars, and probably all massive stars, are born in dense stellar clusters. The mechanism by which a molecular cloud fragments to form several hundred to thousands of individual stars has remained elusive. Here, we use a numerical simulation to follow the fragmentation of a turbulent molecular cloud, and the subsequent formation and early evolution of a stellar cluster containing more than 400 stars. We show that the stellar cluster forms through the hierarchical fragmentation of a turbulent molecular cloud. This leads to the formation of many small subclusters, which interact and merge to form the final stellar cluster. The hierarchical nature of the cluster formation has serious implications in terms of the properties of the new-born stars. The higher number-density of stars in subclusters, compared to a more uniform distribution arising from a monolithic formation, results in closer and more frequent dynamical interactions. Such close interactions can truncate circumstellar discs, harden existing binaries and potentially liberate a population of planets. We estimate that at least one-third of all stars, and most massive stars, suffer such disruptive interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413
Number of pages413
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume343
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2003

Keywords

  • stars : formation
  • stars : luminosity function, mass function
  • globular clusters : general
  • ORION NEBULA CLUSTER
  • SMOOTHED PARTICLE HYDRODYNAMICS
  • ELONGATED CYLINDRICAL CLOUDS
  • INITIAL MASS FUNCTION
  • STAR-DISC ENCOUNTERS
  • MOLECULAR CLOUDS
  • PROTOSTELLAR ENCOUNTERS
  • NUMERICAL SIMULATIONS
  • GLOBULAR-CLUSTERS
  • BROWN DWARFS

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