An H i threshold for star cluster formation in tidal debris

Aparna Maybhate, Joseph Masiero, John E. Hibbard, Jane C. Charlton, Christopher Palma, Karen A. Knierman, Jayanne English

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Superstar clusters are young, compact star clusters found in the central regions of interacting galaxies. Recently, they have also been reported to preferentially form in certain tidal tails, but not in others. In this paper, we have used 21-cm H i maps and the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 images of eight tidal tail regions of four merging galaxy pairs to compare the kiloparsec scale H i distribution with the location of superstar clusters found from the optical images. For most of the tails, we find that there is an increase in superstar cluster density with increasing projected H i column density, such that the star cluster density is highest when log N H i ≳ 20.6 cm-2, but equal to the background count rate at lower H i column density. However, for two tails (NGC 4038/39 Pos A and 3921), there is no significant star cluster population despite the presence of gas at high column density. This implies that the NH i threshold is a necessary but not sufficient condition for cluster formation. Gas volume density is likely to provide a more direct criterion for cluster formation, and other factors such as gas pressure or strength of encounter may also have an influence. Comparison of H i thresholds needed for formation of different types of stellar structures await higher resolution H i and optical observations of larger numbers of interacting galaxies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-67
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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