The chemical composition of two supergiants in the dwarf irregular galaxy WLM

Kim A. Venn, Eline Tolstoy, Andreas Kaufer, Evan D. Skillman, Sonya M. Clarkson, Stephen J. Smartt, Danny J. Lennon, Rolf P. Kudritzki

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64 Scopus citations


The chemical composition of two stars in WLM has been determined from high-quality Ultraviolet-Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES) data obtained at the VLT-UT2. The model atmospheres analysis shows that they have the same metallicity, [Fe/H] = -0.38 ± 0.20 (±0.29). Reliable magnesium abundances are determined from several lines of two ionization states in both stars resulting in [Mg/Fe] = -0.24 ± 0.16 (±0.28). This result suggests that the [α(Mg)/Fe] ratio in WLM may be suppressed relative to solar abundances (also supported by differential abundances relative to similar stars in NGC 6822 and the Small Magellanic Cloud [SMC]). The absolute Mg abundance, [Mg/H] = -0.62, is high relative to what is expected from the nebulae though, where two independent spectroscopic analyses of the H II regions in WLM yield [O/H] = -0.89. Intriguingly, the oxygen abundance determined from the O I λ6158 feature in one WLM star is [O/H] = -0.21 ± 0.10 (±0.05), corresponding to 5 times higher than the nebular oxygen abundance. This is the first time that a significant difference between stellar and nebular oxygen abundances has been found, and currently, there is no simple explanation for this difference. The two stars are massive supergiants with distances that clearly place them in WLM. They are young (≤10 Myr) and should have a similar composition to the ISM. Additionally, differential abundances suggest that the O/Fe ratio in the WLM star is consistent with similar stars in NGC 6822 and the SMC, galaxies where the average stellar oxygen abundances are in excellent agreement with the nebular results. If the stellar abundances reflect the true composition of WLM, then this galaxy lies well above the metallicity-luminosity relationship for dwarf irregular galaxies. It also suggests that WLM is more chemically evolved than currently interpreted from its color-magnitude diagram. The similarities between the stars in WLM and NGC 6822 suggest that these two galaxies may have had similar star formation histories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1326-1345
Number of pages20
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number3 1773
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Galaxies: abundances
  • Galaxies: dwarf
  • Galaxies: individual (WLM)
  • Stars: abundances


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