No wide spread of stellar ages in the Orion Nebula Cluster
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Oxford University Press (OUP) / Royal Astronomical Society
The wide luminosity dispersion seen for stars at a given effective temperature in the H-R diagrams of young clusters and star forming regions is often interpreted as due to significant (~10 Myr) spreads in stellar contraction age. In the scenario where most stars are born with circumstellar discs, and that disc signatures decay monotonically (on average) over timescales of only a few Myr, then any such age spread should lead to clear differences in the age distributions of stars with and without discs. We have investigated large samples of stars in the Orion Nebula Cluster (ONC) using three methods to diagnose disc presence from infrared measurements. We find no significant difference in the mean ages or age distributions of stars with and without discs, consistent with expectations for a coeval population. Using a simple quantitative model we show that any real age spread must be smaller than the median disc lifetime. For a log-normal age distribution, there is an upper limit of <0.14 dex (at 99% confidence) to any real age dispersion, compared to the ~=0.4 dex implied by the H-R diagram. If the mean age of the ONC is 2.5 Myr, this would mean at least 95% of its low-mass stellar population has ages between 1.3--4.8 Myr. We suggest that the observed luminosity dispersion is caused by a combination of observational uncertainties and physical mechanisms that disorder the conventional relationship between luminosity and age for pre main-sequence stars. This means that individual stellar ages from the H-R diagram are unreliable and cannot be used to directly infer a star formation history. Irrespective of what causes the wide luminosity dispersion, the finding that any real age dispersion is less than the median disc lifetime argues strongly against star formation scenarios for the ONC lasting longer than a few Myr.
RDJ and NJM acknowledge the support of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. SPL is supported by a Research Councils UK Academic Fellowship. This research has made use of NASA’s Astrophysics Data System Bibliographic Services. We thank Tom Megeath for supplying tables of the ONC Spitzer data and a referee for several useful suggestions.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Oxford University Press via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 418 (3), pp. 1948-1958