Young stars are embedded within obscuring clouds of natal material. Only infrared radiation can escape so astronomers examine these regions at infrared wavelengths using the shape of the spectral energy distribution (the SED—the relative amounts of flux emitted at different wavelengths) to diagnose the nature of the young star(i.eits mass, age, accretion activity, developing disk, and similar properties). One major complication is that the various telescopes and instruments used to measure an SED have large and different-sized beams that encompass multiple objects in a cluster. As a result, each point in an SED is a confused blend of emission from all the constituent stars, with the longest wavelength data points (from the largest beams) covering a spatial region which is ten times larger than the shortest wavelength points.
The astronomers apply their method to seventy young, low mass stellar clusters observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera, and derive their physical properties. Their results are in excellent agreement with general expectations for the distribution of stellar masses. They also find several unexpected preliminary results, including a relationship between the total mass of the cluster and the mass of its largest member. The team plans to extend the wavelength ranges included in their SED analysis and to increase the number of clusters analyzed.
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