Star Formation in the Central 400 pc of the Milky Way: Evidence for a Population of Massive YSOs

Yusef-Zadeh, F.; Hewitt, J.; Arendt, R. G.; Whitney, B.; Rieke, G.; Wardle, M.; Hinz, J. L.; Stolovy, S.; Lang, C. C.; Burton, M. G. and Ramirez, S.

Paper: ApJ, May 2009


The central kpc of the Milky Way might be expected to differ significantly from the rest of the Galaxy with regard to gas dynamics and the formation of young stellar objects (YSOs). We probe this possibility with mid-infrared observations obtained with IRAC and MIPS on Spitzer and with MSX. We use color-color diagrams and spectral energy distribution (SED) fits to explore the nature of YSO candidates (including objects with 4.5micron excesses possibly due to molecular emission). There is an asymmetry in the distribution of the candidate YSOs, which tend to be found at negative Galactic longitudes; this behavior contrasts with that of the molecular gas, approximately 2/3 of which is at positive longitudes. The small scale height of these objects suggests that they are within the Galactic center region and are dynamically young. They lie between two layers of infrared dark clouds (IRDCs) and may have originated from these clouds. We identify new sites for this recent star formation by comparing the mid-IR, radio, submillimeter, and methanol maser data. The methanol masers appear to be associated with young, embedded YSOs characterized by 4.5micron excesses. We use the SEDs of these sources to estimate their physical characteristics; their masses appear to range from 10 to 20 \msol. Within the central 400x50 pc (|l|<1.3 DEGr and | b|<10') the star formation rate based on the identification of Stage I evolutionary phase of YSO candidates is about 0.14 solar mass/yr. Given that the majority of the sources in the population of YSOs is classified as Stage I objects, we suggest that a recent burst of star formation took place within the last 105 years. This suggestion is also consistent with estimates of star formation rates within the last 107 years showing a peak around 105 years ago. Lastly, we find that the Schmidt-Kennicutt Law applies well in the central 400 pc of the Galaxy. This implies that star formation does not appear to be dramatically affected by the extreme physical conditions in the Galactic center region.

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