Intermediate mass stars with M = 6 to 10 Msun will end their lives by either losing mass quiescently and forming massive white dwarfs or by exploding as core collapse type II supernovae. The critical mass separating these two stellar evolution channels is not only a fundamental threshold of stellar astrophysics, but is a crucial ingredient to generate reliable galaxy evolution simulations. Given the steepness of the stellar IMF, small changes in the critical mass directly affects chemical evolution scenarios, energetics, and feedback relations. Although most astronomers reference the critical mass at M = 8 Msun, there is a lack of robust theoretical or observational confirmation of this number.We propose to measure the critical mass directly by verifying the end products of stellar evolution in four rich, young, co-eval stellar populations. With ages of 25 to 60 Myr and total stellar masses >10,000 Msun, the Magellanic Cloud globular clusters NGC 1818, NGC 330, NGC 1805, and NGC 2164 have present-day main-sequence turnoff masses of M = 6.2, 7.2, 8.5, and 9.8 Msun, respectively. Existing photometry verifies that each cluster has a rich upper main sequence of massive stars, and therefore would have formed dozen(s) of stars above the present day turnoff. If those stars did not explode as core collapse supernovae, they will populate a clear blue white dwarf cooling sequence. Our experiment uses the full power, wavelength coverage, and resolution of HST/WFC3 to detect these cooling sequences in high-precision, UV-sensitive color-magnitude diagrams.
- Pub Date:
- November 2015