Infrared L-Band Observations of the Trapezium Cluster: A Census of Circumstellar Disks and Candidate Protostars

Charles J. Lada, August Muench, Karl E., Jr. Haisch, Elizabeth A. Lada, João F. Alves, Eric V. Tollestrup, S. P. Willner

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


We report the results of a sensitive near-infrared JHKL imaging survey of the Trapezium cluster in Orion. We use the JHKL colors to obtain a census of infrared excess stars in the cluster. Of (391) stars brighter than 12th magnitude in the K and L bands, 80%+/-7% are found to exhibit detectable infrared excess on the J-H, K-L color-color diagram. Examination of a subsample of 285 of these stars with published spectral types yields a slightly higher infrared excess fraction of 85%. We find that 97% of the optical proplyds in the cluster exhibit excess in the JHKL color-color diagram indicating that the most likely origin of the observed infrared excesses is from circumstellar disks. We interpret these results to indicate that the fraction of stars in the cluster with circumstellar disks is between 80%-85%, confirming earlier published suggestions of a high disk fraction for this young cluster. Moreover, we find that the probability of finding an infrared excess around a star is independent of stellar mass over essentially the entire range of the stellar mass function down to the hydrogen burning limit. Consequently, the vast majority of stars in the Trapezium cluster appear to have been born with circumstellar disks and the potential to subsequently form planetary systems, despite formation within the environment of a rich and dense stellar cluster. We identify 78 stars in our sample characterized by K-L colors suggestive of deeply embedded objects. The spatial distribution of these objects differs from that of the rest of the cluster members and is similar to that of the dense molecular cloud ridge behind the cluster. About half of these objects are detected in the short wavelength (J and H) bands, and these are found to be characterized by extreme infrared excess. This suggests that many of these sources could be protostellar in nature. If even a modest fraction (i.e., ~50%) of these objects are protostars, then star formation could be continuing in the molecular ridge at a rate comparable to that which produced the foreground Trapezium cluster.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3162-3176
JournalThe Astronomical Journal
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2000


  • Stars: Circumstellar Matter
  • Infrared Radiation
  • Galaxy: Open Clusters and Associations: Individual: Name: Trapezium
  • Stars: Formation

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