Distances to galaxies from the brightest stars in the Universe
Measuring distances to galaxies and determining their chemical compositions are two fundamental activities in modern extragalactic astronomy, in that they help characterizing the physical properties of their constituents and their evolutionary status. Ultimately, these measurements lead to stronger constraints on the cosmological parameters of an expanding universe and the history of cosmic chemical enrichment. Both these questions can be tackled afresh with the quantitative analysis of the absorption line spectra of individual massive and luminous, young B- and A-type supergiant stars. A spectroscopic distance determination method, the FGLR, can yield accurate distances up to several Mpc, extending to a local volume where the results can be compared with those obtained from Cepheids and other distance indicators. Moreover, and this being a unique advantage of the FGLR, reddening values and metallicities are simultaneously determined for each individual stellar target. These stellar metallicities are very accurate and can be used to constrain the formation and evolution of galaxies and to assess and overcome the systematic uncertainties of H II region strong-line abundances through a galaxy-by-galaxy comparison. Moreover, stellar spectroscopy provides fundamental complementary abundance information for star forming galaxies on additional atomic species such as iron-group elements. I will present recent results of our on-going efforts to study individual blue supergiant stars in galaxies within and beyond the Local Group based on medium and low resolution optical spectra collected with ESO VLT and the Keck telescopes. The promising perspectives of future work, based on the giant ground-based telescopes of the next generation (E-ELT, TMT) are also discussed.
About the talk
Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii