Super Star Clusters in Blue Compact Galaxies Evidence for a near-infrared flux excess and properties of the starburst phase

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University

Abstract: Luminous Blue compact galaxies (BCGs) are metal-poor actively star-forming systems, characterised by bright ultraviolet and blue luminosities. Hubble Space Telescope high-resolution data have revealed that the luminous star-forming knots in these galaxies are composed of hundreds of young massive star clusters. In this work we present a systematic study of the star cluster populations in BCGs with important implications for the formation history of their host systems. The studied galaxies show recently increased star formation rates and a high fraction of massive clusters, probably as a result of minor/major merger events. The age distributions have a peak of cluster formation at only 3 - 4 Myr, unveiling a unique sample of clusters still partially embedded. A considerable fraction of clusters (30 - 50 %), mainly younger than 10 Myr, shows an observed flux excess between 0.8 and 2.2 ?m. This so-called near-infrared (NIR) excess is impossible to reproduce even with the most recent spectral synthesis models (that include a self-consistent treatment of the photoionized gas). The origin of the NIR excess, which still remains unexplained, challenges our understanding of the cluster formation process under extreme conditions.The results achieved in this work have produced important insights into the cluster formation process in BCGs. We suggest that the BCG environment has most likely favoured the compression and collapse of giant molecular clouds into compact massive star clusters. The cluster formation efficiency (i.e., the fraction of star formation happening in star clusters) in BCGs is higher than the reported 8 - 10 %, for quiescent spirals and local star-forming galaxies. Luminous BCGs have a cluster formation efficiency comparable to luminous infrared galaxies and spiral starburst nuclei (the averaged value is  about 30 %), suggesting an important role of the merger event in the cluster formation.