Dissertation: Star Formation in the Auriga-California Giant Molecular Cloud and its Circumstellar Disk Population

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By Hannah Broekhoven-Fiene
Thesis defended on April 14, 2016
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Victoria
Thesis advisor: Dr. Brenda Matthews

Abstract

This thesis presents a multiwavelength analysis, from the infrared to the microwave, of the young, forming stars in the Auriga-California Molecular Cloud and a first look at the disks they host and their potential for forming planetary systems. At the beginning of this thesis, Auriga-Cal had only recently been identified as one contiguous cloud with its distance placing it within the Gould Belt of nearby star-forming regions (Lada et al., 2009). This thesis presents the largest body of work to date on Auriga-Cal’s star formation and disk population. Auriga-Cal is one of two nearby giant molecular clouds (GMCs) in the Gould Belt, the other being the Orion A molecular cloud. These two GMCs have similar mass (~105 solar masses), spatial scale (~80 pc), distance (~450 pc), and filamentary morphology, yet the two clouds present very different star formation qualities and quantities. Namely, Auriga-Cal is forming far fewer stars and does not exhibit the high-mass star formation seen in Orion A. In this thesis, I present a census of the star forming objects in the infrared with the Spitzer Space Telescope showing that Auriga-Cal contains at least 166 young stellar objects (YSOs), 15–20 times fewer stars than Orion A, the majority of which are located in the cluster around LkHalpha 101, NGC 1529, and the filament extending from it. I find the submillimetre census with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, sensitive to the youngest objects, arrives at a similar result showing the disparity between the two clouds observed in the infrared continues to the submillimetre. Therefore the relative star formation rate between the two clouds has remained constant in recent times. The final chapter introduces the first study targeted at the disk population to measure the formation potential of planetary systems around the young stars in Auriga-Cal. The dust thermal emission at cm wavelengths is observed to measure the relative amounts of cm-sized grains, indicative of the grain growth processes that take place in disks and are necessary for planet formation. For a subsample of our targets, we are able to measure the spectral slope in the cm to confirm the thermal nature of the observed emission that we detect and characterize the signature of grain growth. The sensitivity of our observations probes masses greater than the minimum mass solar nebula (MMSN), the disk mass required to form the Solar System. We detect 19 disks, representing almost a third of our sample, comparable to the numbers of disks in other nearby star-forming regions with disks masses exceeding the MMSN, suggesting that the disk population in Auriga-Cal possesses similar planet formation potential as populations in other clouds. Confirmation of this result requires future observations with mm interferometry, the wavelength regime where the majority of statistics of disks has been measured.

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