The initial conditions for stellar protocluster formation

Peretto, N, Lenfestey, C, Fuller, GA, Traficante, A, Molinari, S, Thompson, MA and Ward-Thompson, D orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1140-2761 (2016) The initial conditions for stellar protocluster formation. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 590 . A72. ISSN 0004-6361

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Context. Galactic plane surveys of pristine molecular clouds are key for establishing a Galactic-scale view of star formation. For this reason, an unbiased sample of infrared dark clouds in the 10◦ < |l| < 65◦, |b| < 1◦ region of the Galactic plane was built using Spitzer 8 µm extinction. However, intrinsic fluctuations in the mid-infrared background can be misinterpreted as foreground clouds.
Aims. The main goal of this study is to disentangle real clouds in the Spitzer Dark Cloud (SDC) catalogue from artefacts due to fluctuations in the mid-infrared background.
Methods. We constructed H2 column density maps at ∼1811 resolution using the 160 µm and 250 µm data from the Herschel Galactic plane survey Hi-GAL. We also developed an automated detection scheme that confirms the existence of a SDC through its association
with a peak on these Herschel column density maps. Detection simulations, along with visual inspection of a small sub-sample of SDCs, have been performed to get more insight into the limitations of our automated identification scheme.
Results. Our analysis shows that 76(±19)% of the catalogued SDCs are real. This fraction drops to 55(±12)% for clouds with angular diameters larger than ∼1 arcmin. The contamination of the PF09 catalogue by large spurious sources reflects the large uncertainties associated to the construction of the 8 µm background emission, a key stage in identiying SDCs. A comparison of the Herschel
confirmed SDC sample with the BGPS and ATLASGAL samples shows that SDCs probe a unique range of cloud properties, reaching down to more compact and lower column density clouds than any of these two (sub-)millimetre Galactic plane surveys.
Conclusions. Even though about half of the large SDCs are spurious sources, the vast majority of the catalogued SDCs do have a Herschel counterpart. The Herschel-confirmed sample of SDCs offers a unique opportunity to study the earliest stages of both low- and high-mass star formation across the Galaxy.

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