Global survey of star clusters in the Milky Way
VI. Age distribution and cluster formation history
Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg,
Landessternwarte, Königstuhl 12,
2 Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Acad. Sci., 48 Pyatnitskaya Str., 109017 Moscow, Russia
3 Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg, Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Mönchhofstraße 12-14, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany
4 Main Astronomical Observatory, 27 Academica Zabolotnogo Str., 03143 Kiev, Ukraine
5 Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP), An der Sternwarte 16, 14482 Potsdam, Germany
Accepted: 19 February 2018
Context. The all-sky Milky Way Star Clusters (MWSC) survey provides uniform and precise ages, along with other relevant parameters, for a wide variety of clusters in the extended solar neighbourhood.
Aims. In this study we aim to construct the cluster age distribution, investigate its spatial variations, and discuss constraints on cluster formation scenarios of the Galactic disk during the last 5 Gyrs.
Methods. Due to the spatial extent of the MWSC, we have considered spatial variations of the age distribution along galactocentric radius RG, and along Z-axis. For the analysis of the age distribution we used 2242 clusters, which all lie within roughly 2.5 kpc of the Sun. To connect the observed age distribution to the cluster formation history we built an analytical model based on simple assumptions on the cluster initial mass function and on the cluster mass-lifetime relation, fit it to the observations, and determined the parameters of the cluster formation law.
Results. Comparison with the literature shows that earlier results strongly underestimated the number of evolved clusters with ages t ≳ 100 Myr. Recent studies based on all-sky catalogues agree better with our data, but still lack the oldest clusters with ages t ≳ 1 Gyr. We do not observe a strong variation in the age distribution along RG, though we find an enhanced fraction of older clusters (t > 1 Gyr) in the inner disk. In contrast, the distribution strongly varies along Z. The high altitude distribution practically does not contain clusters with t < 1 Gyr. With simple assumptions on the cluster formation history, the cluster initial mass function and the cluster lifetime we can reproduce the observations. The cluster formation rate and the cluster lifetime are strongly degenerate, which does not allow us to disentangle different formation scenarios. In all cases the cluster formation rate is strongly declining with time, and the cluster initial mass function is very shallow at the high mass end.
Key words: Galaxy: evolution / open clusters and associations: general / Galaxy: stellar content / galaxies: fundamental parameters / galaxies: photometry / galaxies: star clusters: general
© ESO 2018