The extended environment of M17: A star formation history

Matthew S. Povich, Ed Churchwell, John H Bieging, Miju Kang, Barbara A. Whitney, Crystal L. Brogan, Craig A. Kulesa, Martin Cohen, Brian L. Babler, Rémy Indebetouw, Marilyn R. Meade, Thomas P. Robitaille

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


M17 is one of the youngest and most massive nearby star-formation regions in the Galaxy. It features a bright H II region erupting as a blister from the side of a giant molecular cloud (GMC). Combining photometry from the Spitzer Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (GLIMPSE) with complementary infrared (IR) surveys, we identify candidate young stellar objects (YSOs) throughout a 15 × 1° field that includes the M17 complex. The long sightline through the Galaxy behind M17 creates significant contamination in our YSO sample from unassociated sources with similar IR colors. Removing contaminants, we produce a highly reliable catalog of 96 candidate YSOs with a high probability of association with the M17 complex. We fit model spectral energy distributions to these sources and constrain their physical properties. Extrapolating the mass function of 62 intermediate-mass YSOs (M > 3M ), we estimate that >1000 stars are in the process of forming in the extended outer regions of M17. The remaining 34 candidate YSOs are found in a 0.17deg2 field containing the well-studied M17 H II region and photodissociation region (PDR), where bright diffuse mid-IR emission drastically reduces the sensitivity of the GLIMPSE point-source detections. By inspecting IR survey images from IRAS and GLIMPSE, we find that M17 lies on the rim of a large shell structure 05 in diameter (∼20 pc at 2.1kpc). We present maps of 12CO and 13CO (J = 2 → 1) emission observed with the Heinrich Hertz Telescope. The CO emission shows that the shell is a coherent, kinematic structure associated with M17, centered at v = 19km s-1. The shell is an extended bubble outlining the PDR of a faint, diffuse H II region several Myr old. We identify a group of candidate ionizing stars within the bubble. YSOs in our catalog are concentrated around the bubble rim, providing evidence that massive star formation has been triggered by the expansion of the bubble. The formation of the massive cluster ionizing the M17 H II region itself may have been similarly triggered. We conclude that the star formation history in the extended environment of M17 has been punctuated by successive waves of massive star formation propagating through a GMC complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1278-1306
Number of pages29
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 10 2009


  • Hii regions
  • infrared: ISM
  • radio continuum: ISM
  • radio lines: ISM
  • stars: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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