SCYON Abstract

Received on September 4 2006

Star clusters disruption by giant molecular clouds

Authors M. Gieles (1,2), S.F. Portegies Zwart (2), H. Baumgardt (3), E. Athanassoula (4), H.J.G.L.M. Lamers (1), M. Sipior (2) and J. Leenaarts (1)
(1) Utrecht University
(2) University of Amsterdam
(3) University of Bonn
(4) Observatoire de Marseille
Accepted byMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society


We investigate encounters between giant molecular clouds (GMCs) and star clusters. We propose a single expression for the energy gain of a cluster due to an encounter with a GMC, valid for all encounter distances and GMC properties. This relation is verified with N-body simulations of cluster-GMC encounters and excellent agreement is found. The fractional mass loss from the cluster is 0.25 times the fractional energy gain. This is because 75% of the injected energy goes to the velocities of escaping stars, that are higher than the escape velocity. We derive an expression for the cluster disruption time (tdis) based on the mass loss from the simulations, taking into account the effect of gravitational focusing by the GMC. The disruption time depends on the cluster mass (Mc) and half-mass radius (rh) as tdis=2.0 S (Mc/104 Msun)(3.75 pc/rh)3 Gyr, with S=1 for the solar neighbourhood and inversely proportional to the GMC density. The observed shallow relation between cluster radius and mass gives tdis a power-law dependence on the mass with index 0.7, similar to that found from observations and from simulations of clusters dissolving in tidal fields (0.62). The constant of 2.0 Gyr is about a factor of 3.5 shorter than found from earlier simulations of clusters dissolving under the combined effect of galactic tidal field and stellar evolution. It is somewhat higher than the observationally determined value of 1.3 Gyr. It suggests, however, that the combined effect of tidal field and encounters with GMCs can explain the lack of old open clusters in the solar neighbourhood. GMC encounters can also explain the (very) short disruption time that was observed for star clusters in the central region of M51, since there ρn is an order of magnitude higher than in the solar neighbourhood.