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Astron. Astrophys. 332, 493-502 (1998)

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The C18 O/C17 O ratio in the Large Magellanic Cloud

A. Heikkilä 1, L.E.B. Johansson 1 and H. Olofsson 2

1 Onsala Space Observatory, S-439 92 Onsala, Sweden
2 Stockholm Observatory, S-133 36 Saltsjöbaden, Sweden

Received 28 May 1997 / Accepted 5 January 1998


We report detections of J =2-1 line emission from the carbon monoxide isotopomers 13 CO, C18 O and C17 O in the molecular clouds N159W, N113, N44BC, and N214DE in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). 13 CO and C18 O lines were observed in two additional clouds: N159S in the LMC and N27 in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). While 13 CO was detected in both of them, only upper limits to the C18 O line emission were obtained. Statistical-equilibrium excitation and radiative transfer calculations were made to infer molecular column densities from the observed line intensities. We estimate an average gas-phase C18 O/C17 O abundance ratio of 1.6 [FORMULA] in the LMC. This is significantly lower than typical values found in Galactic clouds (by a factor of two) and in centres of starburst galaxies (by a factor of five). We use the C18 O/C17 O abundance ratio as a measure of the elemental 18 O/17 O abundance ratio. Provided that current theories of the nucleosynthesis involving [FORMULA] O apply, then the low 18 O/17 O ratio suggests that massive stars have contributed little to the metal enrichment of the interstellar medium in the LMC in the past. This may be caused by a steep initial mass function (which appears to be the case for field stars in the Magellanic Clouds and in the Galaxy) together with a low average star-formation rate. This explanation contrasts with the present situation in prominent star-formation regions in the LMC, such as 30 Doradus, which form stars at a considerable rate and appear to have initial mass functions similar to star clusters in the Galaxy. The apparent spatial constancy of the 18 O/17 O abundance ratio, the nominal values for the individual clouds vary between 1.6 and 1.8, indicates a well mixed interstellar medium and/or that the star-formation activity took place globally in the LMC in the past. In the SMC we obtained a lower limit of 17 for the 13 CO/C18 O ratio (the LMC average is 30), possibly indicating a low 18 O abundance here as well. Our data suggests a correlation between the 18 O/17 O abundance ratio and the metallicity. The high 18 O/17 O abundance ratio in centres of starburst galaxies could reflect a high metallicity, mainly caused by a high star-formation rate, possibly but not necessarily together with an initial mass function biased towards massive stars.

Key words: ISM: abundances – galaxies: abundances – galaxies: evolution – galaxies: ISM – Magellanic Clouds

Send offprint requests to: A. Heikkilä

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1998

Online publication: March 23, 1998