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Disruption of Giant Molecular Clouds by Massive Star Clusters

Elizabeth Harper-Clark

Doctor of Philosophy 2011
Graduate Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto

The lifetime of a Giant Molecular Cloud (GMC) and the total mass of stars that form within it are crucial to the understanding of star formation rates across a whole galaxy. In particular, the stars within a GMC may dictate its disruption and the quenching of further star formation. Indeed, observations show that the MilkyWay contains GMCs with extensive expanding bubbles while the most massive stars are still alive. Simulating entire GMCs is challenging, due to the large variety of physics that needs to be included, and the computational power required to accurately simulate a GMC over tens of millions of years. Using the radiative-magneto- hydrodynamic code Enzo, I have run many simulations of GMCs. I obtain robust results for the fraction of gas converted into stars and the lifetimes of the GMCs: (A) In simulations with no stellar outputs (or “feedback”), clusters form at a rate of 30% of GMC mass per free fall time; the GMCs were not disrupted but contained forming stars. (B) Including ionization gas pressure or radiation pressure into the simulations, both separately and together, the star formation was quenched at between 5% and 21% of the original GMC mass. The clouds were fully disrupted within two dynamical times after the first cluster formed. The radiation pressure contributed the most to the disruption of the GMC and fully quenched star formation even without ionization. (C) Simulations that included supernovae showed that they are not dynamically important to GMC disruption and have only minor effects on subsequent star formation. (D) The inclusion of a few μG magnetic field across the cloud slightly reduced the star formation rate but accelerated GMC disruption by reducing bubble shell disruption and leaking. These simulations show that new born stars quench further star formation and completely disrupt the parent GMC. The low star formation rate and the short lifetimes of GMCs shown here can explain the low star formation rate across the whole galaxy.

Reproduced with permission. library@astro.utoronto.ca
July 19, 2011