L. Venuti, L. Prisinzano, G. G. Sacco, E. Flaccomio, R. Bonito, F. Damiani, G. Micela, M. G. Guarcello, S. Randich, J. Stauffer, A. M. Cody, R. D. Jeffries, S. Alencar, E. J. Alfaro, A. C. Lanzafame, E. Pancino, A. Bayo, G. Carraro, M. T. Costado, A. Frasca, P. Jofrť, L. Morbidelli, S. G. Sousa, S. Zaggia
Context. Reconstructing the structure and history of young clusters is pivotal to understanding the mechanisms and timescales of early stellar evolution and planet formation. Recent studies suggest that star clusters often exhibit a hierarchical structure, possibly resulting from several star formation episodes occurring sequentially rather than a monolithic cloud collapse.
Aims. We aim to explore the structure of the open cluster and star-forming region NGC 2264 (~3 Myr), which is one of the youngest, richest and most accessible star clusters in the local spiral arm of our Galaxy; we link the spatial distribution of cluster members to other stellar properties such as age and evolutionary stage to probe the star formation history within the region.
Methods. We combined spectroscopic data obtained as part of the Gaia-ESO Survey (GES) with multi-wavelength photometric data from the Coordinated Synoptic Investigation of NGC 2264 (CSI 2264) campaign. We examined a sample of 655 cluster members, with masses between 0.2 and 1.8 M⊙ and including both disk-bearing and disk-free young stars. We used Teff estimates from GES and g,r,i photometry from CSI 2264 to derive individual extinction and stellar parameters.
Results. We find a significant age spread of 4-5 Myr among cluster members. Disk-bearing objects are statistically associated with younger isochronal ages than disk-free sources. The cluster has a hierarchical structure, with two main blocks along its latitudinal extension. The northern half develops around the O-type binary star S Mon; the southern half, close to the tip of the Cone Nebula, contains the most embedded regions of NGC 2264, populated mainly by objects with disks and ongoing accretion. The median ages of objects at different locations within the cluster, and the spatial distribution of disked and non-disked sources, suggest that star formation began in the north of the cluster, over 5 Myr ago, and was ignited in its southern region a few Myr later. Star formation is likely still ongoing in the most embedded regions of the cluster, while the outer regions host a widespread population of more evolved objects; these may be the result of an earlier star formation episode followed by outward migration on timescales of a few Myr. We find a detectable lag between the typical age of disk-bearing objects and that of accreting objects in the inner regions of NGC 2264: the first tend to be older than the second, but younger than disk-free sources at similar locations within the cluster. This supports earlier findings that the characteristic timescales of disk accretion are shorter than those of disk dispersal, and smaller than the average age of NGC 2264 (i.e., ≲3 Myr). At the same time, we note that disks in the north of the cluster tend to be shorter-lived (similar to 2.5 Myr) than elsewhere; this may reflect the impact of massive stars within the region (notably S Mon), that trigger rapid disk dispersal.
Conclusions. Our results, consistent with earlier studies on NGC 2264 and other young clusters, support the idea of a star formation process that takes place sequentially over a prolonged span in a given region. A complete understanding of the dynamics of formation and evolution of star clusters requires accurate astrometric and kinematic characterization of its population; significant advance in this field is foreseen in the upcoming years thanks to the ongoing Gaia mission, coupled with extensive ground-based surveys like GES.
Clusters: open; Stars: pre-main sequence; YSOs; Photometry: SDSS; Spectroscopy
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Astronomy and Astrophysics
Volume 609, Article Number A10, Number of pages 24