The Hierarchical Distribution of the Young Stellar Clusters in Six Local Star-forming Galaxies

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We present a study of the hierarchical clustering of the young stellar clusters in six local (3-15 Mpc) star-forming galaxies using Hubble Space Telescope broadband WFC3/UVIS UV and optical images from the Treasury Program LEGUS (Legacy ExtraGalactic UV Survey). We identified 3685 likely clusters and associations, each visually classified by their morphology, and we use the angular two-point correlation function to study the clustering of these stellar systems. We find that the spatial distribution of the young clusters and associations are clustered with respect to each other, forming large, unbound hierarchical star-forming complexes that are in general very young. The strength of the clustering decreases with increasing age of the star clusters and stellar associations, becoming more homogeneously distributed after ∼40-60 Myr and on scales larger than a few hundred parsecs. In all galaxies, the associations exhibit a global behavior that is distinct and more strongly correlated from compact clusters. Thus, populations of clusters are more evolved than associations in terms of their spatial distribution, traveling significantly from their birth site within a few tens of Myr, whereas associations show evidence of disruption occurring very quickly after their formation. The clustering of the stellar systems resembles that of a turbulent interstellar medium that drives the star formation process, correlating the components in unbound star-forming complexes in a hierarchical manner, dispersing shortly after formation, suggestive of a single, continuous mode of star formation across all galaxies.