Infall-driven protostellar accretion and the solution to the luminosity problem

Astrophysical Journal, 797, 32

We investigate the role of mass infall in the formation and evolution of protostars. To avoid ad hoc initial and boundary conditions, we consider the infall resulting self-consistently from modeling the formation of stellar clusters in turbulent molecular clouds. We show that infall rates in turbulent clouds are comparable to accretion rates inferred from protostellar luminosities or measured in pre-main-sequence stars. They should not be neglected in modeling the luminosity of protostars and the evolution of disks, even after the embedded protostellar phase. We find large variations of infall rates from protostar to protostar, and large fluctuations during the evolution of individual protostars. In most cases, the infall rate is initially of order 10−5M yr−1, and may either decay rapidly in the formation of low-mass stars, or remain relatively large when more massive stars are formed. The simulation reproduces well the observed characteristic values and scatter of protostellar luminosities and matches the observed protostellar luminosity function. The luminosity problem is therefore solved once realistic protostellar infall histories are accounted for, with no need for extreme accretion episodes. These results are based on a simulation of randomly driven magnetohydrodynamic turbulence on a scale of 4 pc, including self-gravity, adaptive-mesh refinement to a resolution of 50 AU, and accreting sink particles. The simulation yields a low star formation rate, consistent with the observations, and a mass distribution of sink particles consistent with the observed stellar initial mass function during the whole duration of the simulation, forming nearly 1300 sink particles over 3.2 Myr.