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A newly-discovered young massive star cluster at the end of the Galactic Bar

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DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2011.19840.x
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We present a near-infrared study of the candidate star cluster Mercer 81, located at the centre of the G338.4+0.1 HII region, and close to the TeV gamma-ray source HESS 1640-465. Using HST/NICMOS imaging and VLT/ISAAC spectroscopy we have detected a compact and highly extincted cluster of stars, though the bright stars in the centre of the field are in fact foreground objects. The cluster contains nine stars with strong Paschen-alpha emission, one of which we identify as a Wolf-Rayet (WR) star, as well as an A-type supergiant. The line-of-sight extinction is very large, $A_{V}\sim 45$, illustrating the challenges of locating young star clusters in the Galactic Plane. From a quantitative analysis of the WR star we argue for a cluster age of 3.7$^{+0.4}_{-0.5}$\,Myr, and, assuming that all emission-line stars are WRs, a cluster mass of $\ga 10^4$\msun. A kinematic analysis of the cluster's surrounding HII-region shows that the cluster is located in the Galactic disk at a distance of 11$\pm$2\,kpc. This places the cluster close to where the far end of the Bar intersects the Norma spiral arm. This cluster, as well as the nearby cluster [DBS2003]179, represent the first detections of active star cluster formation at this side of the Bar, in contrast to the near side which is well known to have recently undergone a $\sim 10^6$\msun\ starburst episode.


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