SCYON Abstract

Received on March 29 2002

Massive Star Formation in Luminous Infrared Galaxies:
Giant HII Regions and their relation to Super Star Clusters

AuthorsAlmudena Alonso-Herrero, George H. Rieke, Marcia J. Rieke
Steward Observatory, University of Arizona
Accepted byAstronomical Journal


We have used HST/NICMOS H-band narrow-band Pa-alpha (at rest 1.87micron) images to identify star clusters and HII regions respectively in a sample of 8 luminous infrared galaxies (LIRGs). These observations have revealed the presence of a large population of super star clusters (SSC) and bright HII regions. A significant fraction of the HII regions shows H-alpha luminosities above that of 30 Doradus, the prototypical giant HII region. The excess of extremely luminous HII regions in LIRGs has been confirmed by comparison with normal galaxies observed at similar spatial resolutions. Despite the large numbers of identified star clusters and HII regions in LIRGs, we only find a small fraction of coincidences, between 4% and 30%. Using synthesis models we have reproduced the relative fractions of young HII regions, intermediate and old star clusters observed in Arp299 and the central region NGC3256 using a Salpeter IMF and instantaneous star formation. HII regions with no detected near-infrared cluster counterpart (25-39%) represent the youngest sites of star formation, with ages of up to approximately 5Myr and mostly intermediate mass (~10^ 5Msun) ionizing clusters. For these two galaxies, and within the present detection threshold we can only detect coincidences (4-10%) between an HII region and a near-infrared star cluster for the most massive star clusters (~10^6 Msun) during the first 7 Myr of their evolution. The identified near-infrared SSCs with no detectable Pa-alpha emission represent the ``old'' population (53-66% of the detected sources), with ages of between 7 and 20-40Myr. Older clusters possibly created in this or previous episodes of star formation are likely to exist in these systems but cannot be identified with the present detection threshold. (Abridged)