Calibration of nebular emission-line diagnostics. I. Stellar effective temperatures

M. S. Oey*, M. A. Dopita, J. C. Shields, R. C. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    51 Citations (Scopus)


    We present a detailed comparison of optical H II region spectra to photoionization models based on modern stellar atmosphere models. We examine both spatially resolved and integrated emission-line spectra of the H II regions DEM L323, DEM L243, DEM L199, and DEM L301 in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The published spectral classifications of the dominant stars range from O7 to WN3, and morphologies range from Strömgren sphere to shell structure. Two of the objects include SNR contamination. The overall agreement with the predictions is generally within 0.2 dex for major diagnostic line ratios. An apparent pattern in the remaining discrepancies is that the predicted electron temperature is ∼1000 K hotter than observed. [Ne III] intensities are also slightly overpredicted, which may or may not be related. We model the shock emission for the SNR-contaminated objects and find excellent agreement with the observations for composite shock and photoionized spectra. DEM L301's emission apparently results from both shocks and density-bounded photoionization. The existence of contaminating shocks can be difficult to ascertain in the spatially integrated spectra. Our analysis of the complex DEM L199 allows a nebular emission-line test of unprecedented detail for WR atmospheres. Surprisingly, we find no nebular He II λ4686 emission, despite the fact that both of the dominant WN3 stars should be hot enough to fully ionize He I in their atmospheres. The nebular diagnostics are again in excellent agreement with the data, for stellar models not producing He+-ionizing photons. The optical diagnostics are furthermore quite insensitive to the ionizing energy distribution for these early WR stars. We confirm that the ηprime; emission-line parameter is not as useful as hoped for determining the ionizing stellar effective temperature, T*. Both empirically and theoretically, we find that it is insensitive for T* ≳ 40 kK and that it also varies spatially. The shock-contaminated objects show that η′ will also yield a spuriously high T*, in the presence of shocks. It is furthermore sensitive to shell morphology. We suggest [Ne III]/Hβ as an additional probe of T*. Although it is abundance dependent, [Ne III]/Hβ has higher sensitivity to T*, is independent of morphology, and is insensitive to shocks in our objects. These observations should be useful data points for a first empirical calibration of nebular diagnostics of T*, which we attempt for LMC metallicity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)511-548
    Number of pages38
    JournalAstrophysical Journal, Supplement Series
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2000


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