Discovery of O stars in the tidal Magellanic Bridge: Stellar parameters, abundances, and feedback of the nearest metal-poor massive stars and their implication for the Magellanic System ecology

Ramachandran, V.; Oskinova, L.M.; Hamann, W.-R.

The Magellanic Bridge stretching between the SMC and LMC is the nearest tidally stripped intergalactic environment and has a low average metallicity Z of 0.1 Z_sun. Here we report the first discovery of three O-type stars in the Bridge using archival spectra collected with FLAMES at ESO/VLT. We analyze the spectra using the PoWR models, which provide the physical parameters, ionizing photon fluxes, and surface abundances. This discovery suggests that the tidally stripped low density gas is capable of producing massive O stars and their ages imply ongoing star formation in the Bridge. The multi-epoch spectra indicate that all three O stars are binaries. Despite their spatial proximity to each other, these O stars are chemically distinct. One of them is a fast-rotating giant with nearly LMC-like abundances. The other two are main-sequence stars that rotate extremely slowly and are strongly metal depleted. This includes the most nitrogen-poor O star known up to date. Taking into account the previous analyses of B stars in the Bridge, we interpret the various metal abundances as the signature of a chemically inhomogeneous interstellar medium, suggesting that the gas might have accreted during multiple episodes of tidal interaction between the Clouds. Attributing the lowest derived metal content to the primordial gas, the time of initial formation of the Bridge may date back to several Gyr. Using the Gaia and Galex color-magnitude diagrams we roughly estimate the total number of O stars in the Bridge and their total ionizing radiation. Comparing with the energetics of the diffuse ISM, we find that the contribution of the hot stars to the ionizing radiation field in the Bridge is less than 10%, and conclude that the main sources of ionizing photons are leaks from the LMC and SMC. We estimate a lower limit for the fraction of ionizing radiation that escapes from these two dwarf galaxies.

Preprint (varsha-bridge-2020.pdf, 0.9MB)

This paper in ADS

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