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Published February 20, 2010 | Published
Journal Article Open

Star Formation History of a Young Super-Star Cluster in NGC 4038/39: Direct Detection of Low-Mass Pre-Main Sequence Stars


We present an analysis of the near-infrared spectrum of a young massive star cluster in the overlap region of the interacting galaxies NGC 4038/39 using population synthesis models. Our goal is to model the cluster population as well as provide rough constraints on its initial mass function (IMF). The cluster shows signs of youth, such as thermal radio emission and strong hydrogen emission lines in the near-infrared. Late-type absorption lines are also present which are indicative of late-type stars in the cluster. The strength and ratio of these absorption lines cannot be reproduced through either late-type pre-main sequence (PMS) stars or red supergiants alone. Thus, we interpret the spectrum as a superposition of two star clusters of different ages, which is feasible since the 1" spectrum encompasses a physical region of ≈90 pc and radii of super-star clusters (SSCs) are generally measured to be a few parsecs. One cluster is young (≤ 3 Myr) and is responsible for part of the late-type absorption features, which are due to PMS stars in the cluster, and the hydrogen emission lines. The second cluster is older (6 Myr-18 Myr) and is needed to reproduce the overall depth of the late-type absorption features in the spectrum. Both are required to accurately reproduce the near-infrared spectrum of the object. Thus, we have directly detected PMS objects in an unresolved SSC for the first time using a combination of population synthesis models and PMS tracks. This analysis serves as a testbed of our technique to constrain the low-mass IMF in young SSCs as well as an exploration of the star formation history of young UC H II regions.

Additional Information

© 2010 American Astronomical Society. Print publication: Issue 2 (2010 February 20); received 2009 February 25; accepted for publication 2010 January 11; published 2010 February 2. We thank the referee for helpful comments and suggestions that improved the content and clarity of the manuscript. The data presented here were obtained with the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the Mauna Kea summit has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain. This publication makes use of data products from the Two Micron All Sky Survey, which is a joint project of the University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center/California Institute of Technology, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. M.R.M. gratefully acknowledges the support of a Cottrell scholar award from the Research Corporation.

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