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Physics  2012 

Orion Revisited - I. The massive cluster in front of the Orion Nebula Cluster

DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201220119

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The aim of this work is to characterize the stellar population between Earth and the Orion A molecular cloud where the well known star formation benchmark Orion Nebula Cluster (ONC) is embedded. We use the denser regions the Orion A cloud to block optical background light, effectively isolating the stellar population in front of it. We then use a multi-wavelength observational approach to characterize the cloud's foreground stellar population. We find that there is a rich stellar population in front of the Orion A cloud, from B-stars to M-stars, with a distinct 1) spatial distribution, 2) luminosity function, and 3) velocity dispersion from the reddened population inside the Orion A cloud. The spatial distribution of this population peaks strongly around NGC 1980 (iota Ori) and is, in all likelihood, the extended stellar content of this poorly studied cluster. We infer an age of ~4-5 Myr for NGC 1980 and estimate a cluster population of the order of 2000 stars, which makes it one of the most massive clusters in the entire Orion complex. What is currently taken in the literature as the ONC is then a mix of several intrinsically different populations, namely: 1) the youngest population, including the Trapezium cluster and ongoing star formation in the dense gas inside the nebula, 2) the foreground population, dominated by the NGC 1980 cluster, and 3) the poorly constrained population of foreground and background Galactic field stars. Our results support a scenario where the ONC and L1641N are not directly associated with NGC 1980, i.e., they are not the same population emerging from its parental cloud, but are instead distinct overlapping populations. This result calls for a revision of most of the observables in the benchmark ONC region (e.g., ages, age spread, cluster size, mass function, disk frequency, etc.). (abridged)


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