From young super star cluster to old globular: robust star cluster survival rates

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


Young massive star clusters are hallmarks of intense starbursts. They are important, not only as benchmarks of cluster formation and evolution, but also as tracers of the history of star formation and evolution of their host galaxies, and of the 'initial mass function' (IMF, the proportion of high to low-mass stars at the time of starbirth). Yet, the question remains whether at least a fraction of them might eventually evolve into old 'globular' clusters. Globular clusters are very common in the local Universe, and our Milky Way galaxy, and they are often regarded as the very oldest building blocks of galaxies. Therefore, if this could be settled convincingly, either way, the results of this proposed project would have far-reaching implications for (i) our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution, and (ii) the basic conditions required for star (cluster) formation. I propose to analyse the basic properties of carefully selected cluster systems in a few nearby active 'starburst' galaxies to obtain dynamical cluster mass estimates from high-resolution spectroscopy. Combined with existing Hubble Space Telescope imaging, and - for the first time - sophisticated computational modeling, we will derive the initial conditions for cluster formation, their evolution, and explore IMF variations in these intense star-forming regions, compared to the quiescent field. Ultimately, this will tell us whether young star clusters can indeed survive to become old globular cluster-type objects.


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Kouwenhoven M (2014) How does a low-mass cut-off in the stellar IMF affect the evolution of young star clusters? in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society