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The role of massive stars in young starburst galaxies

Norris, Richard Paul Furber; (2003) The role of massive stars in young starburst galaxies. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Starburst galaxies are defined as those galaxies undergoing violent star formation over relatively short periods of time (10 to 100 Myr). These objects may form stellar populations of > 106 Msun, containing massive stars with masses > 100 Msun. Although most starburst galaxies are observed at relatively low redshift, recent evidence suggests that these types of galaxies were far more important in the high redshift past. It is believed that the chemical evolution of the Universe has been strongly influenced by this mode of star formation through the dense winds from massive stars and supernovae ejecta. Our understanding of starbursts is still relatively poor, since most are too distant to be resolved. We can gain some understanding of starbursts indirectly through the modelling of associated nebulae via the calculation of theoretical spectral energy distributions (SEDs) and photoionization modelling. This technique heavily relies upon the accuracy of the predicted far UV continuum of the massive star population. This thesis presents a new grid of SEDs for O stars, early B supergiants and Wolf-Rayet stars which have been incorporated into the evolutionary synthesis code Starburst99 (Leitherer et al. 1999). A total of 285 expanding, non-LTE, line-blanketed model atmospheres have been calculated to replace old, inaccurate LTE models for O stars, and pure helium, unblanketed models for W-R stars. These new grids cover five metallicities and the wind parameters are scaled with metallicity. We find that the new models yield significantly less ionizing flux below the He 0 ionizing edge at early phases and as a consequence, nebular He II λ4686 will not be observable in young starbursts. We use the photoionization code CLOUDY to test the accuracy of the predicted ionizing fluxes from our new models. We find that they are in much better agreement with observed optical and IR nebular line diagnostics than any previous models. The new W-R atmospheres are used in conjunction with 40 new O supergiant CMFGEN atmospheres to generate optical synthetic spectra of a starburst in its W-R phase. We demonstrate the use of this new spectral synthesis tool by modelling the observed spectra of five WR galaxies. We show for the first time that it is possible to derive consistent ages directly from the W-R stellar features and indirectly via the ionizing fluxes from the nebular line ratios.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The role of massive stars in young starburst galaxies
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Pure sciences; Starburst galaxies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10097777
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