Observing the Feedback from Embedded Super Star Clusters with NIRSPEC
As the birth places of super star clusters (SSCs), starbursts provide a testbed of astrophysics on a vast range of scales, from the microphysics of star formation to the macrophysics describing the evolution of galaxies and ultimately the Universe as a whole. SSCs represent the dominant mode of star formation in the early Universe. In the local Universe, these ~1-10 Myr old systems host dense concentrations of thousands of massive stars, offering an unprecedented view of the likely progenitors of globular clusters. This dissertation investigates the influence of SSCs on the gas that they ionize and subsequent effect of their starbursts on the galaxies in which they form. In particular, I explore the following questions: how does massive star feedback clear natal gas from SSCs? What conditions allow a cluster to remain bound through this gas dispersal phase or form multiple generations of stars? Through what mechanisms do starbursts regulate the central mass evolution of disk galaxies? How do SSCs drive chemically enriched, galaxy-scale winds from starbursts? To study the launching of winds, we need tracers that can penetrate the dusty clouds around young SSCs, and both high spatial and spectral resolution. The Brackett α line (4.05μm) is ideal, but not available to most observers. Using NIRSPEC (Keck II) we can map Br α and probe the dynamics of heavily embedded HII regions near SSCs. In this thesis, we present NIRSPEC observations in a variety of starburst environments, with the aim of providing an empirical basis for the emerging paradigm in the formation of the most massive stellar systems.