Project 21:

Spectroscopic Confirmation of a Population of Isolated, Intermediate-Mass YSOs

Wide-field searches for young stellar objects (YSOs) can place useful constraints on the prevalence of clustered versus distributed star formation. The Spitzer/IRAC Candidate YSO (SPICY) catalog is one of the largest compilations of such objects (∼120,000 candidates in the Galactic midplane).

Many SPICY candidates are spatially clustered, but, perhaps surprisingly, approximately half the candidates appear spatially distributed. To better characterize this unexpected population and confirm its nature, we obtained Palomar/DBSP spectroscopy for 26 of the optically-bright (G<15 mag) "isolated" YSO candidates.

We confirm the YSO classifications of all 26 sources based on their positions on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, H and Ca II line-emission from over half the sample, and robust detection of infrared excesses. This implies a contamination rate of <10% for SPICY stars that meet our optical selection criteria.

Spectral types range from B4 to K3, with A-type stars most common. Spectral energy distributions, diffuse interstellar bands, and Galactic extinction maps indicate moderate to high extinction. Stellar masses range from ∼1 to 7 M, and the estimated accretion rates, ranging from 3×10−8 to 3×10−7 M yr−1, are typical for YSOs in this mass range. The 3D spatial distribution of these stars, based on Gaia astrometry, reveals that the “isolated” YSOs are not evenly distributed in the Solar neighborhood but are concentrated in kpc-scale dusty Galactic structures that also contain the majority of the SPICY YSO clusters. Thus, the processes that produce large Galactic star-forming structures may yield nearly as many distributed as clustered YSOs.

Full citation: Michael A. Kuhn et al, 2023, The Astronomical Journal, Volume 165, Issue 1, id.3, 16 pp.


Michael A. Kuhn, Caltech (USA)
Ramzi Saber, Caltech (USA)
Matthew S. Povich, California State Polytechnic U. Pomona (USA)
Rafael S. de Souza, SHAO (China)
Alberto Krone-Martins, U. California Irvine (USA)
Emille E. O. Ishida, CNRS/UCA (France)
Catherine Zucker, Harvard-Smithisonian (USA)
Robert A. Benjamin, U. Winsconsin-Madison (USA)
Lynne A. Hillenbrand, Caltech (USA)
Alfred Castro-Ginard, U. Barcelona (Spain)
Xingyu Zhou, Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (China)

HR diagram for the observed SPICY stars.