Astronomy and Astrophysics, volume 485, 657-677 (2008/7-3)
Galaxies with Wolf-Rayet signatures in the low-redshift Universe. A survey using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
BRINCHMANN J., KUNTH D. and DURRET F.
Abstract (from CDS):
The availability of large spectroscopic datasets has opened up the possibility of constructing large samples of rare objects in a systematic manner. 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. We carried out very careful continuum subtraction on all galaxies with equivalent widths of Hβ>2Å 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. 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(Hβ)=100Å, 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 HeIIλ4686 to show that, at 12+logO/H<8, the main sources of HeII 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.