The physical conditions in molecular clouds control the nature and rate of star formation, with consequences for planet formation and galaxy evolution. The focus of this review is on the conditions that characterize regions of star formation in our Galaxy. A review of the tools and tracers for probing physical conditions includes summaries of generally applicable results. Further discussion distinguishes between the formation of low-mass stars in relative isolation and formation in a clustered environment. Evolutionary scenarios and theoretical predictions are more developed for isolated star formation, and observational tests are beginning to interact strongly with the theory. Observers have identified dense cores collapsing to form individual stars or binaries, and analysis of some of these cores support theoretical models of collapse. Stars of both low and high mass form in clustered environments, but massive stars form almost exclusively in clusters. The theoretical understanding of such regions is considerably less developed, but observations are providing the ground rules within which theory must operate. The richest and most massive star clusters form in massive, dense, turbulent cores, which provide models for star formation in other galaxies.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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