Testing massive star evolution, star-formation history, and feedback at low metallicity. Photometric analysis of OB stars in the SMC Wing

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Context. The supergiant ionized shell SMC-SGS 1 (DEM 167), which is located in the outer Wing of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), resembles structures that originate from an energetic star-formation event and later stimulate star formation as they expand into the ambient medium. However, stellar populations within and surrounding SMC-SGS 1 tell a different story. Aims: We present a photometric study of the stellar population encompassed by SMC-SGS 1 in order to trace the history of such a large structure and its potential influence on star formation within the low-density, low-metallicity environment of the SMC. Methods: For a stellar population that is physically associated with SMC-SGS 1, we combined near-ultraviolet (NUV) photometry from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer with archival optical (V-band) photometry from the ESO Danish 1.54 m Telescope. Given their colors and luminosities, we estimated stellar ages and masses by matching observed photometry to theoretical stellar isochrone models. Results: We find that the investigated region supports an active, extended star-formation event spanning ∼25-40 Myr ago, as well as continued star formation into the present. Using a standard initial mass function, we infer a lower bound on the stellar mass from this period of ∼3 × 104 M⊙, corresponding to a star-formation intensity of ∼6 × 10-3 M⊙ kpc-2 yr-1. Conclusions: The spatial and temporal distributions of young stars encompassed by SMC-SGS 1 imply a slow, consistent progression of star formation over millions of years. Ongoing star formation, both along the edge and interior to SMC-SGS 1, suggests a combined stimulated and stochastic mode of star formation within the SMC Wing. We note that a slow expansion of the shell within this low-density environment may preserve molecular clouds within the volume of the shell, leaving them to form stars even after nearby stellar feedback expels local gas and dust. Based in part on observations made with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT).

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