Dust-buried Compact Sources in the Dwarf Galaxy NGC 4449

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Multiwavelength images from the Hubble Space Telescope covering the wavelength range 0.27-1.6 μm show that the central area of the nearby dwarf galaxy NGC 4449 contains several tens of compact sources that are emitting in the hydrogen recombination line Paβ (1.2818 μm) but are only marginally detected in Hα (0.6563 μm) and undetected at wavelengths λ ≤ 0.55 μm. An analysis of the spectral energy distributions (SEDs) of these sources indicates that they are likely relatively young stellar clusters heavily attenuated by dust. The selection function used to identify the sources prevents meaningful statistical analyses of their age, mass, and dust extinction distributions. However, these cluster candidates have ages ∼5-6 Myr and A V > 6 mag, according to their SED fits, and are extremely compact, with typical deconvolved radii of 1 pc. The dusty clusters are located at the periphery of the dark clouds within the galaxy and appear to be partially embedded. Density and pressure considerations indicate that the H ii regions surrounding these clusters may be stalled, and that pre-supernova (pre-SN) feedback has not been able to clear the clusters of their natal cocoons. These findings are in potential tension with existing models that regulate star formation with pre-SN feedback, since pre-SN feedback acts on short timescales, ≲4 Myr, for a standard stellar initial mass function. The existence of a population of dusty stellar clusters with ages >4 Myr, if confirmed by future observations, paints a more complex picture for the role of stellar feedback in controlling star formation.