Star Formation Across the W3 Complex

Román-Zúñiga, Carlos G.; Ybarra, Jason E.; Megías, Guillermo D.; Tapia, Mauricio; Lada, Elizabeth A.; Alves, Joáo F.
The Astronomical Journal, Volume 150, Issue 3, article id. 80, 18 pp. (2015).


We present a multi-wavelength analysis of the history of star formation in the W3 complex. Using deep, near-infrared ground-based images combined with images obtained with Spitzer and Chandra observatories, we identified and classified young embedded sources. We identified the principal clusters in the complex and determined their structure and extension. We constructed extinction-limited samples for five principal clusters and constructed K-band luminosity functions that we compare with those of artificial clusters with varying ages. This analysis provided mean ages and possible age spreads for the clusters. We found that IC 1795, the centermost cluster of the complex, still hosts a large fraction of young sources with circumstellar disks. This indicates that star formation was active in IC 1795 as recently as 2 Myr ago, simultaneous to the star-forming activity in the flanking embedded clusters, W3-Main and W3(OH). A comparison with carbon monoxide emission maps indicates strong velocity gradients in the gas clumps hosting W3-Main and W3(OH) and shows small receding clumps of gas at IC 1795, suggestive of rapid gas removal (faster than the T Tauri timescale) in the cluster-forming regions. We discuss one possible scenario for the progression of cluster formation in the W3 complex. We propose that early processes of gas collapse in the main structure of the complex could have defined the progression of cluster formation across the complex with relatively small age differences from one group to another. However, triggering effects could act as catalysts for enhanced efficiency of formation at a local level, in agreement with previous studies.