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The Earliest Phases of Star Formation (EPoS): a Herschel key program. The precursors to high-mass stars and clusters

Abstract : Context. Stars are born deeply embedded in molecular clouds. In the earliest embedded phases, protostars emit the bulk of their radiation in the far-infrared wavelength range, where $Herschel$ is perfectly suited to probe at high angular resolution and dynamic range. In the high-mass regime, the birthplaces of protostars are thought to be in the high-density structures known as infrared-dark clouds (IRDCs). While massive IRDCs are believed to have the right conditions to give rise to massive stars and clusters, the evolutionary sequence of this process is not well-characterized. Aims: As part of the Earliest Phases of Star formation (EPoS) $Herschel$ guaranteed time key program, we isolate the embedded structures within IRDCs and other cold, massive molecular clouds. We present the full sample of 45 high-mass regions which were mapped at PACS 70, 100, and 160 μm and SPIRE 250, 350, and 500 μm. In the present paper, we characterize a population of cores which appear in the PACS bands and place them into context with their host molecular cloud and investigate their evolutionary stage. Methods: We construct spectral energy distributions (SEDs) of 496 cores which appear in all PACS bands, 34% of which lack counterparts at 24 μm. From single-temperature modified blackbody fits of the SEDs, we derive the temperature, luminosity, and mass of each core. These properties predominantly reflect the conditions in the cold, outer regions. Taking into account optical depth effects and performing simple radiative transfer models, we explore the origin of emission at PACS wavelengths. Results: The core population has a median temperature of 20 K and has masses and luminosities that span four to five orders of magnitude. Cores with a counterpart at 24 μm are warmer and bluer on average than cores without a 24 μm counterpart. We conclude that cores bright at 24 μm are on average more advanced in their evolution, where a central protostar(s) have heated the outer bulk of the core, than 24 μm-dark cores. The 24 μm emission itself can arise in instances where our line of sight aligns with an exposed part of the warm inner core. About 10% of the total cloud mass is found in a given cloud's core population. We uncover over 300 further candidate cores which are dark until 100 μm. These are possibly starless objects, and further observations will help us determine the nature of these very cold cores.
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S. Ragan, Th. Henning, O. Krause, J. Pitann, H. Beuther, et al.. The Earliest Phases of Star Formation (EPoS): a Herschel key program. The precursors to high-mass stars and clusters. Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A, EDP Sciences, 2012, 547, pp.A49. ⟨10.1051/0004-6361/201219232⟩. ⟨insu-03612399⟩

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