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How do the large-scale dynamics of galaxy interactions trigger star formation in the Antennae galaxy merger?

Abstract : The Antennae (22 Mpc) is one of the most well-known mergers in the nearby Universe. Its distance allow us to observe and study the gas at the scales of stellar cluster formation. It is an ideal source to understand how the galaxy dynamics in mergers trigger the formation of stars. Most of the stars in the Antennae are formed in compact and massive stellar clusters, dubbed super-star clusters (SSCs). The most massive (>106 M⊙) and youngest (<6 Myr) SSCs are located in the overlap region, where the two galaxies collide, and are associated with massive (several 108 M⊙) and super-giant (few hundred of pc) molecular complexes (SGMCs). The formation of SSCs must involve a complex interplay of merger-driven gas dynamics, turbulence fed by the galaxy interaction, and dissipation of the kinetic energy of the gas. Within SGMCs, a hierarchy of structures must be produced, including dense and compact concentrations of molecular gas massive enough to form SSCs, pre-cluster clouds (PCCs). For star formation to occur, the mechanical energy of PCCs must be radiated away to allow their self-gravity to locally win over their turbulent gas pressure. Specific tracers of turbulent dissipation are therefore key inputs to test the validity of this theoretical scenario. In my thesis, I studied the Antennae overlap region. My work is based on observations with the SINFONI spectro-imager at the VLT, which includes H2 rovibrational and Brγ line emission, and with ALMA, which includes the CO(3-2) line and dust continuum emission. Both data-sets have the needed sub-arcsecond angular resolution to resolve the scales of SSC formation. The spectral resolutions are enough to resolve motions within SGMCs. Combining CO and H2 line emission is key in my PhD work. I use CO as a tracer of the distribution and kinematics of the molecular gas, and H2 as a tracer of the rate at which the gas mechanical energy is dissipated.My thesis focuses on diverse sources in the Antennae overlap region which trace different stages of star formation: the gathering of mass necessary to form SGMCs, the formation of PCCs within SGMCs and the disruption of a parent cloud by a newly formed SSC. I show that at each stage turbulence plays a key role. I found that the kinetic energy of the galaxies is not thermalized in large scale shocks, it drives the turbulence in the molecular ISM at a much higher level than what is observed in the Milky Way. Near-IR spectral diagnostics show that, outside of SSCs embedded in their parent clouds, the H2 line emission is powered by shocks and traces the dissipation of the gas turbulent kinetic energy. I relate the H2 emission to the loss of kinetic energy required to form gravitationally bound clouds. This interpretation is supported by the discovery of a compact, bright H2 source not associated with any known SSC. It has the largest H2/CO emission ratio and is located where the data show the largest velocity gradient in the interaction region. To our knowledge, this is the first time that an extragalactic source with such characteristics is identified. We would be witnessing the formation of a cloud massive enough to form a SSC. The data also allow us to study the disruption of a parent molecular cloud by an embedded SSC. Its matter is loosely bound and its gravity would be supported by turbulence, which makes it easier for feedback to disrupt the parent cloud. I end my manuscript presenting two projects. I propose to establish additional energy dissipation tracers observable with ALMA, which gives us the high spatial and spectral resolution needed to isolate scales at which clusters form. This is a Cycle 1 proposal accepted in first priority. I also plan to expand my work to other nearby extragalactic sources by investigating the turbulence-driven formation of stars in different extragalactic sources by combining near-IR and submillimeter observations.
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Cinthya Natalia Herrera Contreras. How do the large-scale dynamics of galaxy interactions trigger star formation in the Antennae galaxy merger?. Other. Université Paris Sud - Paris XI, 2012. English. ⟨NNT : 2012PA112270⟩. ⟨tel-00800077⟩

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