SCYON Abstract

Received on June 12 2018

Unbound Young Stellar Systems: Star Formation on the Loose

AuthorsD. Gouliermis
AffiliationUniversity of Heidelberg
Accepted byPublication of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific


Unbound young stellar systems, the loose ensembles of physically related young bright stars, trace the typical regions of recent star formation in galaxies. Their morphologies vary from small few pc-size associations of newly formed stars to enormous few kpc-size complexes composed of stars few 100 Myr old. These stellar conglomerations are located within the disks and along the spiral arms and rings of star-forming disk galaxies, and they are the active star-forming centers of dwarf and starburst galaxies. Being associated with star-forming regions of various sizes, these stellar structures trace the regions where stars form at various length- and timescales, from compact clusters to whole galactic disks. Stellar associations, the prototypical unbound young systems, and their larger counterparts, stellar aggregates, and stellar complexes, have been the focus of several studies for quite a few decades, with special interest on their demographics, classification, and structural morphology. The compiled surveys of these loose young stellar systems demonstrate that the clear distinction of these systems into well-defined classes is not as straightforward as for stellar clusters, due to their low densities, asymmetric shapes and variety in structural parameters. These surveys also illustrate that unbound stellar structures follow a clear hierarchical pattern in the clustering of their stars across various scales. Stellar associations are characterized by significant sub-structure with bound stellar clusters being their most compact parts, while associations themselves are the brighter denser parts of larger stellar aggregates and stellar complexes, which are members of larger super-structures up to the scale of a whole star-forming galaxy. This structural pattern, which is usually characterized as self-similar or fractal, appears to be identical to that of star-forming giant molecular clouds and interstellar gas, driven mainly by turbulence cascade. In this short review, I make a concise compilation of our understanding of unbound young stellar systems across various environments in the local universe, as it is developed during the last 60 years. I present a factual assessment of the clustering behavior of star formation, as revealed from the assembling pattern of stars across loose stellar structures and its relation to the interstellar medium and the environmental conditions. I also provide a consistent account of the processes that possibly play important role in the formation of unbound stellar systems, compiled from both theoretical and observational investigations on the field.