We analyze age distributions of two nearby rich stellar clusters, the NGC 2024 (Flame Nebula) and Orion Nebula Cluster (ONC) in the Orion molecular cloud complex. Our analysis is based on samples from the MYStIX survey and a new estimator of pre-main sequence (PMS) stellar ages, AgeJX, derived from X-ray and near-infrared photometric data. To overcome the problem of uncertain individual ages and large spreads of age distributions for entire clusters, we compute median ages and their confidence intervals of stellar samples within annular subregions of the clusters. We find core-halo age gradients in both the NGC 2024 cluster and ONC: PMS stars in cluster cores appear younger and thus were formed later than PMS stars in cluster peripheries. These findings are further supported by the spatial gradients in the disk fraction and K-band excess frequency. Our age analysis is based on AgeJX estimates for PMS stars, and is independent of any consideration of OB stars. The result has important implications for the formation of young stellar clusters. One basic implication is that clusters form slowly and the apparent age spreads in young stellar clusters, which are often controversial, are (at least in part) real. The result further implies that simple models where clusters form inside-out are incorrect, and more complex models are needed. We provide several star formation scenarios that alone or in combination may lead to the observed core-halo age gradients.
K. Getman, E. Feigelson and M. Kuhn
Thu, 13 Mar 14