We have used the well-selected sample of~1750 embedded, young, massive stars identified by the Red MSX Source (RMS) survey to investigate the Galactic distribution of recent massive star formation. We present molecular line observations for ~800 sources without existing radial velocities. We describe the various methods used to assign distances extracted from the literature and solve the distance ambiguities towards approximately 200 sources located within the solar circle using archival HI data. These distances are used to calculate bolometric luminosities and estimate the survey completeness (~2 × 104 L⊙). In total, we calculate the distance and luminosity of ~1650 sources, one third of which are above the survey's completeness threshold. Examination of the sample's longitude, latitude, radial velocities and mid-infrared images has identified~120 small groups of sources, many of which are associated with well-known star formation complexes, such as G305, G333, W31, W43, W49 and W51. We compare the positional distribution of the sample with the expected locations of the spiral arms, assuming a model of the Galaxy consisting of four gaseous arms. The distribution of young massive stars in the Milky Way is spatially correlated with the spiral arms, with strong peaks in the source position and luminosity distributions at the arms' Galactocentric radii. The overall source and luminosity surface densities are both well correlated with the surface density of the molecular gas, which suggests that the massive star formation rate per unit molecular mass is approximately constant across the Galaxy. A comparison of the distribution of molecular gas and the young massive stars to that in other nearby spiral galaxies shows similar radial dependences. We estimate the total luminosity of the embedded massive star population to be ~0.76 × 108 L⊙, 30 per cent of which is associated with the 10 most active star-forming complexes.We measure the scaleheight as a function of the Galactocentric distance and find that it increases only modestly from ~20-30 pc between 4 and 8 kpc, but much more rapidly at larger distances.
- Early-type - stars
- Formation - ISM
- Kinematics and dynamics - galaxy
- Molecules -galaxy