Complex structure in class 0 protostellar envelopes

John J. Tobin, Lee Hartmann, Leslie W. Looney, Hsin Fang Chiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We use archived Infrared Array Camera images from the Spitzer Space Telescope to show that many Class 0 protostars exhibit complex, irregular, and non-axisymmetric structure within their dusty envelopes. Our 8μm extinction maps probe some of the densest regions in these protostellar envelopes. Many of the systems are observed to have highly irregular and non-axisymmetric morphologies on scales ≳1000AU, with a quarter of the sample exhibiting filamentary or flattened dense structures. Complex envelope structure is observed in regions spatially distinct from outflow cavities, and the densest structures often show no systematic alignment perpendicular to the cavities. These results indicate that mass ejection is not responsible for much of the irregular morphologies we detect; rather, we suggest that the observed envelope complexity is mostly the result of collapse from protostellar cores with initially non-equilibrium structures. The striking non-axisymmetry in many envelopes could provide favorable conditions for the formation of binary systems. We also note that protostars in the sample appear to be formed preferentially near the edges of clouds or bends in filaments, suggesting formation by gravitational focusing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1010-1028
Number of pages19
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Dust, extinction
  • Stars: formation
  • Stars: protostars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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