An excess of massive stars in the local 30 Doradus starburst

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 69-71
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan0106

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Observing more massive stars

The number of stars that form at each mass is known as the initial mass function (IMF). For most masses, the IMF follows a power-law distribution, first determined by Edwin Salpeter in 1955. Schneider et al. used observations of the nearby star-forming region 30 Doradus (also known as the Tarantula Nebula) and combined these with stellar modeling to determine its IMF. They found more stars above 30 solar masses than predicted by the Salpeter distribution. Because the most massive stars also have the biggest influence on their surroundings—for instance, through ultraviolet radiation, stellar winds, supernova explosions, and production of heavy elements—this excess will have wide-ranging implications.

Science, this issue p. 69


The 30 Doradus star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud is a nearby analog of large star-formation events in the distant universe. We determined the recent formation history and the initial mass function (IMF) of massive stars in 30 Doradus on the basis of spectroscopic observations of 247 stars more massive than 15 solar masses (Embedded Image). The main episode of massive star formation began about 8 million years (My) ago, and the star-formation rate seems to have declined in the last 1 My. The IMF is densely sampled up to 200 Embedded Image and contains 32 ± 12% more stars above 30 Embedded Image than predicted by a standard Salpeter IMF. In the mass range of 15 to 200 Embedded Image, the IMF power-law exponent is Embedded Image, shallower than the Salpeter value of 2.35.

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