Formation of a protocluster: A virialized structure from gravoturbulent collapse: I. Simulation of cluster formation in a collapsing molecular cloud

Yueh Ning Lee, Patrick Hennebelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Context. Stars are often observed to form in clusters and it is therefore important to understand how such a region of concentrated mass is assembled out of the diffuse medium. The properties of such a region eventually prescribe the important physical mechanisms and determine the characteristics of the stellar cluster. Aims. We study the formation of a gaseous protocluster inside a molecular cloud and associate its internal properties with those of the parent cloud by varying the level of the initial turbulence of the cloud with a view to better characterize the subsequent stellar cluster formation. Methods. We performed high resolution magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulations of gaseous protoclusters forming in molecular clouds collapsing under self-gravity. We determined ellipsoidal cluster regions via gas kinematics and sink particle distribution, permitting us to determine the mass, size, and aspect ratio of the cluster. We studied the cluster properties, such as kinetic and gravitational energy, and made links to the parent cloud. Results. The gaseous protocluster is formed out of global collapse of a molecular cloud and has non-negligible rotation owing to angular momentum conservation during the collapse of the object. Most of the star formation occurs in this region, which occupies only a small volume fraction of the whole cloud. This dense entity is a result of the interplay between turbulence and gravity. We identify such regions in simulations and compare the gas and sink particles to observed star-forming clumps and embedded clusters, respectively. The gaseous protocluster inferred from simulation results presents a mass-size relation that is compatible with observations. We stress that the stellar cluster radius, although clearly correlated with the gas cluster radius, depends sensitively on its definition. Energy analysis is performed to confirm that the gaseous protocluster is a product of gravoturbulent reprocessing and that the support of turbulent and rotational energy against self-gravity yields a state of global virial equilibrium, although collapse is occurring at a smaller scale and the cluster is actively forming stars. This object then serves as the antecedent of the stellar cluster, to which the energy properties are passed on. Conclusions. The gaseous protocluster properties are determined by the parent cloud out of which it forms, while the gas is indeed reprocessed and constitutes a star-forming environment that is different from that of the parent cloud.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA30
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • ISM: clouds
  • Open clusters and associations: general
  • Standards
  • Stars: formation
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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