How the evolutionary details of the star formation process (e.g., IMF, binary fraction, star formation efficiency, total extent and mass of star clusters) depend on the local environment is a major question in astrophysics. Massive stars have a strong feedback effect on their environment, via their winds, UV radiation, and ultimately, supernova blast waves, all of which can alter the likelihood for the formation of stars in nearby clouds and limit the accretion process of nearby protostars. But the complex structural make-up (revealed in exquisite detail by many modern studies using HST, Spitzer, WISE, & Herschel) of star-forming clouds in massive star-forming regions (MSFRs) has made it difficult, in spite of decades of study, to reach definitive, quantitative conclusions about the various physical processes at play in producing ``triggered" star formation. All of these issues can now be addressed using a newly recognized class of stellar nurseries embedded within giant HII regions: free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules having cometary shapes (frEGGs). We serendipitously discovered two frEGGs in the Cygnus massive star-forming region with HST. Our preliminary exmaination of the Spitzer archive has revealed a potentially much larger number. We used molecular-line observations showing the presence of dense clouds with total masses of cold molecular gas exceeding 0.5 to a few Msun associated with these objects, thereby disproving the initial hypothesis based on their morphology that these were similar to the proplyds (cometary-shaped photoevaporating protoplanetary disks) found in Orion (Sahai et al. 2012a,b). By virtue of their distinct, isolated morphologies, frEGGS offer us an exciting, new "clean-cut" probe of the star formation process in the vicinity of massive star clusters. And finally, frEGGs offer us an opportunity to study the earliest analogs of the physical environment where our Sun was born, since, like frEGGs, the protosolar nebula is believed to have been seeded by radioactive nuclides from SN explosions of the massive stars in their vicinity. We propose to use imaging data from the Spitzer archive in order to find, tabulate and study these objects in major massive star forming regions observed with Spitzer. Our preliminary work on examining Spitzer images of 4 MSFRs (W5, Rosette, Cygnus, and Carina) shows the widespread presence of frEGGs (Sahai et al. 2014). We will construct the first comprehensive catalog of all frEGGs in these MSFRs. We will build the full spectral-energy distribution (SED) of each object from near-to-far IR wavelengths, exploiting the recent availability of WISE photometry and substantial long-wavelength (70-500 micron) imaging data from large survey programs carried out using Herschel's PACS and SPIRE instruments. We will carry out 2-D dust radiative transfer modeling of the SEDs in order to constrain basic physical parameters such as the stellar effective temperature, luminosity, mass and disk mass associated with the central young stellar objects. Mm-wave molecular-line observations (much of which has been obtained already) will be used to estimate the temperature, mass and density of molecular gas in frEGGs, and thus calibrate the relationship between molecular gas masses and dust masses from SED-models as a function of distance from the ionizing source. We will use a time-dependent astrochemistry/photodissociation code to model the observed molecular abundances and thus probe the evolutionary history of frEGGs. We will use the physical properties of frEGGs derived from our study to inform and constrain sophisticated hydrodynamical simulations of star-formation in irradiated environments.
NASA ADAP Proposal
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