Context. Four clusters of red supergiants have been discovered in a region of the Milky Way close to base of the Scutum-Crux Arm and the tip of the Long Bar. Population synthesis models indicate that they must be very massive to harbour so many supergiants. If the clusters are physically connected, this Scutum Complex would be the largest and most massive star-forming region ever identified in the Milky Way.
Aims: The spatial extent of one of these clusters, RSGC3, has not been investigated. In this paper we explore the possibility that a population of red supergiants could be located in its vicinity.
Methods: We utilised 2MASS JHKS photometry to identify candidate obscured luminous red stars in the vicinity of RSGC3. We observed a sample of candidates with the TWIN spectrograph on the 3.5-m telescope at Calar Alto, obtaining intermediate-resolution spectroscopy in the 8000-9000 Å range. We re-evaluated a number of classification criteria proposed in the literature for this spectral range and found that we could use our spectra to derive spectral types and luminosity classes.
Results: We measured the radial velocity of five members of RSGC3, finding velocities similar to the average for members of Stephenson 2. Among the candidates observed outside the cluster, our spectra revealed eight M-type supergiants at distances <18' from the centre of RSGC3, distributed in two clumps. The southern clump is most likely another cluster of red supergiants, with reddening and age identical to RSGC3. From 2MASS photometry, we identified four likely supergiant members of the cluster in addition to the five spectroscopically observed. The northern clump may be a small cluster with similar parameters. Photometric analysis of the area around RSGC3 suggests the presence of a large (>30) population of red supergiants with similar colours.
Conclusions: Our data suggest that the massive cluster RSGC3 is surrounded by an extended association, which may be very massive ( ≳ 105 M☉). We also show that supergiants in the Scutum Complex may be characterised via a combination of 2MASS photometry and intermediate-to-high-resolution spectroscopy in the Z band. Partially based on observations collected at the 3.5-m telescope (Calar Alto, Spain).
Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Pub Date:
- April 2011
- stars: evolution;
- stars: early-type;
- open clusters and associations: individual: Alicante 7;
- open clusters and associations: individual: RSGC3;
- open clusters and associations: individual: Stephenson 2;
- Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies
- Accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics