Quantifying the drivers of star formation on galactic scales. I. The Small Magellanic Cloud

Dennis Zaritsky, Jason Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


We use the star formation history of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) to place quantitative limits on the effect of tidal interactions and gas infall on the star formation and chemical enrichment history of the SMC. The coincident timing of two recent (<4 Gyr ago) increases in the star formation rate and SMC-Milky Way (MW) pericenter passages suggests that global star formation in the SMC is driven at least in part by tidal forces due to the MW. The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is the other potential driver of star formation, but is only near the SMC during the most recent burst. The poorly constrained LMC-SMC orbit is our principal uncertainty. To explore the correspondence between bursts and MW pericenter passages further, we model star formation in the SMC using a combination of continuous and tidally triggered star formation. The behavior of the tidally triggered mode is a strong inverse function of the SMC-MW separation (preferred behavior ∼r-5, resulting in a factor of ∼100 difference in the rate of tidally triggered star formation at pericenter and apocenter). Despite the success of these closed-box evolutionary models in reproducing the recent SMC star formation history and current chemical abundance, they have some systematic shortcomings that are remedied by postulating that a sizable infall event (∼50% of the total gas mass) occurred ∼4 Gyr ago. Regardless of whether this infall event is included, the fraction of stars in the SMC that formed via a tidally triggered mode is >10%, and could be as large as 70%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-175
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Mar 20 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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