Variations in integrated galactic initial mass functions due to sampling method and cluster mass function
Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, PO Box 9513, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Astronomical Institute, Utrecht University, Princetonplein 5, 3584 CC Utrecht, The Netherlands
Accepted: 13 January 2010
Context. Stars are thought to be formed predominantly in clusters. The star clusters are formed according to a cluster initial mass function (CMF) similar to the stellar initial mass function (IMF). Both the IMF and the CMF can be approximated by (broken) power-laws, which favour low-mass objects. The numerous low-mass clusters will lack high mass stars compared to the underlying IMF, since the most massive star cannot be more massive than its host cluster. If the integrated galactic initial mass function (IGIMF, i.e. the total stellar mass function of all stars in a galaxy) originates from stars formed in star clusters, the IGIMF could be steeper than the IMF in clusters.
Aims. We investigate how well constrained this steepening is and how it depends on the choice of sampling method and CMF. We investigate the observability of the IGIMF effect in terms of galaxy photometry and metallicities.
Methods. We study various ways to sample the stellar IMF within star clusters and build up the IGIMF from these clusters. We compare analytic sampling to several implementations of random sampling of the IMF and different CMFs. We implement different IGIMFs into the galev evolutionary synthesis package to obtain colours and metallicities for galaxies.
Results. Choosing different ways of sampling the IMF results in different IGIMFs. Depending on the lower cluster mass limit and the slope of the cluster mass function, the steepening varies between very strong and negligible. We find the size of the effect is continuous as a function of the power-law slope of the CMF if the CMF extends to masses smaller than the maximum stellar mass. The number of O-stars detected by GAIA will, if some uncertain factors are better understood, help to judge the importance of the IGIMF effect. The impact of different IGIMFs on integrated galaxy photometry is small, within the intrinsic scatter of observed galaxies. Observations of gas fractions and metallicities could rule out at least the most extreme sampling methods, if other sources of error are sufficiently understood.
Conclusions. As we still do not understand the details of star formation and the sampling of the stellar IMF in clusters, one sampling method cannot be favoured over another. Also, the CMF at very low cluster masses is not well constrained observationally. These uncertainties therefore need to be taken into account when using an IGIMF, with severe implications for galaxy evolution models and interpretations of galaxy observations.
Key words: stars: luminosity function, mass function / Galaxy: stellar content / galaxies: fundamental parameters / methods: numerical / methods: statistical
© ESO, 2010