Spectroscopic analysis of OB stars in the SMC questions the standard picture of massive star evolution, star-formation history and feedback at low metallicity
Ramachandran, V.; Hamann, W.-R.; Oskinova, L. M.; Gallagher, J. S.; Hainich, R.; Shenar, T.; Sander, A. A. C.; Todt, H.; Fulmer, L.
Stars which start their lives with spectral types O and early-B are the progenitors of core-collapse supernovae, long gamma-ray bursts, neutron stars, and black holes. These massive stars are the primary sources of stellar feedback in star-forming galaxies. At low metallicities, the properties of massive stars and their evolution are not yet fully explored. Here we report a spectroscopic study of 320 OB stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud. The data, which we obtained with the ESO Very Large Telescope, were analyzed using state-of-the-art stellar atmosphere models. We find that the stellar winds of our sample stars are much weaker than theoretically expected. The stellar rotation rates show a bi-modal distribution. We determine the fundamental stellar parameters and build up an empiric Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Our results show indications for a dichotomy in the evolution of metal-poor single massive stars. With initial masses less than 30 solar masses, they become red supergiants and likely end up as type II-P supernovae. The more massive stars, however, appear to evolve quasi chemically-homogeneously and are expected to finally collapse to relatively massive black holes. We find no empirical evidence for any correlation between stellar rotation and chemically homogeneous evolution of massive stars. The apparent dichotomy in evolutionary paths is found to be independent of stellar surface rotation. We report extended star-formation episodes in a quiescent low-density region of the Wing, which is progressing stochastically. We measure the key parameters of stellar feedback and establish the links between stellar feedback parameters and the rates of star formation and supernovae. Our study demonstrates that in metal-poor environments the stellar feedback is dominated by core-collapse supernovae in combination with winds and ionizing radiation supplied by a few of the most massive stars.
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