Constraints on the Low-Mass IMF in Young Super-Star Clusters in Starburst Galaxies
Committee ChairMeyer, Michael
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractAs evidence for variations in the initial mass function (IMF) in nearby star forming regions remains elusive we are forced to expand our search to more extreme regions of star formation. Starburst galaxies, which contain massive young clusters have in the past been reported to have IMFs different than that characterizing the field star IMF. In this thesis we use high signal-to-noise near-infrared spectra to place constraints on the shape of the IMF in extreme regions of extragalactic star formation and also try to understand the star formation history in these regions.Through high signal-to-noise near-infrared spectra it is possible to directly detect low-mass PMS stars in unresolved young super-star clusters, using absorption features that trace cool stars. Combining Starburst99 and available PMS tracks it is then possible to constrain the IMF in young super-star clusters using a combination of absorption lines each tracing different ranges of stellar masses and comparing observed spectra to models. Our technique can provide a direct test of the universality of the IMF compared to the Milky Way.We have obtained high signal-to-noise H- and K-band spectra of two young super-star clusters in the starburst galaxies NGC 4039/39 and NGC 253 in order to constrain the low-mass IMF and star formation history in the clusters. The cluster in NGC 4038/39 shows signs of youth such as thermal radio emission and strong hydrogen emission lines as well as late-type absorption lines indicative of cool stars. The strength and ratio of these absorption lines cannot be reproduced through either late-type pre-main sequence stars or red supergiants alone. We interpret the spectrum as a superposition of two star clusters of different ages over the physical region of 90 pc our spectrum represents. One cluster is young (< 3 Myr) and is responsible for part of the late-type absorption features, which are due to PMS stars in the cluster, and the hydrogen emission lines. The second cluster is older (6 Myr - 18 Myr) and is needed to reproduce the overall depth of the late-type absorption features in the spectrum. While the superposition of clusters does not allow us to place stringent constraints on the IMF there is no evidence of a low-mass cutoff in the cluster and the IMF is consistent with a Chabrier and Kroupa IMF typical of the field.The cluster in NGC 253 shows the same signs of youth as the cluster in NGC 4038/39 and sits in front of a background population of older stars. The background population has an age of $approx$ 12 Myr and thus contains red supergiants. After carefully subtracting this background we model the spectrum of the young cluster. We find that its IMF is consistent with a Chabrier and Kroupa IMF with a best-fit power-law slope of 1.0 in linear units. Slopes of 0.0 - 1.5 are also formally consistent with the cluster spectrum. We conclude that there is no strong evidence for an unusual IMF or a lack of low-mass stars (< 1 Msun) in either of these galaxies.