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A Photometric Survey of Field Stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud: Probing its Star-Formation History 1

  • T. A. Smecker-Hane (a1), J. S. Gallagher (a2), Andrew Cole (a2), P. B. Stetson (a3) and E. Tolstoy (a4)...

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The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is unique among galaxies in the Local Group in that it is the most massive non-spiral, is relatively gas-rich, and is actively forming stars. Determining its star-formation rate (SFR) as a function of time will be a cornerstone in our understanding of galaxy evolution. The best method of deriving a galaxy's past SFR is to compare the densities of stars in a color-magnitude diagram (CMD), a Hess diagram, with model Hess diagrams. The LMC has a complex stellar population with ages ranging from 0 to ~ 14 Gyr and metallicities from −2 ≲ [Fe/H] ≲ −0.4, and deriving its SFR and simultaneously constraining model input parameters (distance, age-metallicity relation, reddening, and stellar models) requires well-populated CMDs that span the magnitude range 15 ≤ V ≤ 24. Although existing CMDs of field stars in the LMC show tantalizing evidence for a significant burst of star formation that occurred ~ 3 Gyr ago (for examples, see Westerlund et al. 1995; Vallenari et al. 1996; Elson, et al. 1997; Gallagher et al. 1999, and references therein), estimates of the enhancement in the SFR vary from factors of 3 to 50. This uncertainty is caused by the relatively large photometric errors that plague crowded ground-based images, and the small number statistics that plague CMDs created from single Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) images.

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References

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Elson, R.A.W., Gilmore, G.F., & Santiago, B.X. 1997, MNRAS, 289, 157
Gallagher, J.S. III, et al. 1999, this volume
Vallenari, A., et al. 1996, A&A, 309, 367
Westerlund, B.E., Linde, P., & Lyngå, G. 1995, A&A, 298, 39

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