Galaxies with Wolf-Rayet signatures in the low-redshift Universe*
A survey using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, PO Box 9513, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands e-mail: email@example.com
2 Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, Rua das Estrelas S/N, 4150-762 Porto, Portugal
3 Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, UMR 7095 CNRS, Université Pierre & Marie Curie, 98 bis boulevard Arago, 75014 Paris, France
Accepted: 10 April 2008
Context. The availability of large spectroscopic datasets has opened up the possibility of constructing large samples of rare objects in a systematic manner.
Aims. The goal of this study is to analyse the properties of galaxies showing Wolf-Rayet features in their optical spectrum using spectra from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Release 6. With this unprecedentedly large sample we aim to constrain the properties of the Wolf-Rayet phase and its impact on the surrounding interstellar medium.
Methods. We carried out very careful continuum subtraction on all galaxies with equivalent widths of H Å in emission and identify Wolf-Rayet features using a mixture of automatic and visual classification. We combined this with spectroscopic and photometric information from the SDSS and derive metal abundances using a number of methods.
Results. We find a total of 570 galaxies with significant Wolf-Rayet (WR) features and a further 1115 potential candidates, several times more than even the largest heterogeneously assembled catalogues. We discuss in detail the properties of galaxies showing Wolf-Rayet features with a focus on their empirical properties. We are able to accurately quantify the incidence of Wolf-Rayet galaxies with metal abundance and show that the likelihood of otherwise similar galaxies showing Wolf-Rayet features increases with increasing metallicity, but that WR features are found in galaxies of a wide range in morphology. The large sample allows us to show explicitly that there are systematic differences in the metal abundances of WR and non-WR galaxies. The most striking result is that, below EW() = 100 Å, Wolf-Rayet galaxies show an elevated N/O relative to non-WR galaxies. We interpret this as a rapid enrichment of the ISM from WR winds. We also show that the model predictions for WR features strongly disagree with the observations at low metallicity; while they do agree quite well with the data at solar abundances. We discuss possible reasons for this and show that models incorporating binary evolution reproduce the low-metallicity results reasonably well. Finally we combine the WR sample with a sample of galaxies with nebular He ii to show that, at , the main sources of He ii ionising photons appears to be O stars, arguing for a less dense stellar wind at these metallicities, while at higher abundances WN stars might increasingly dominate the ionisation budget.
Key words: stars: Wolf-Rayet / galaxies: abundances / galaxies: evolution / galaxies: starburst / galaxies: fundamental parameters
© ESO, 2008