The Large Magellanic Cloud's Top 250: Classification of the Most Luminous Compact 8 mu m Sources in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Document Type


Publication Date



To ascertain the nature of the brightest compact mid-infrared (mid-IR) sources in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), we have applied an updated version of Buchanan et al.'s Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS)-Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) color classification system, which is based on the results of Spitzer Space Telescope spectroscopy, to a mid-IR (8 mu m) flux-limited sample of 250 LMC objects for which 2MASS and MSX photometry is available. The resulting 2MASS-MSX ("JHK8") color-based classifications of these sources, which constitute the most mid-IR-luminous objects in the LMC, were augmented, cross-checked, and corrected where necessary via a variety of independent means, such that only 46 sources retain tentative classifications and only 10 sources cannot be classified at all. The sample is found to consist primarily of carbon-rich asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars (35%), red supergiants (RSGs) (18%), and compact HII regions (32%), with additional, small populations of oxygen-rich AGB stars (similar to 5%), dusty, early-type emission-line stars (similar to 3%), and foreground, O-rich AGB stars in the Milky Way (similar to 3%). The very large ratio of C-rich to O-rich objects among the luminous and heavily dust-enshrouded AGB stars in our LMC IR source sample is consistent with the hypothesis that carbon stars form easily in lower metallicity environments. We demonstrate that very luminous C-rich and O-rich AGB stars and RSGs, identified here primarily on the basis of their JHK8 colors, also appear as distinct clusters in Spitzer Infrared Array Camera (IRAC)/Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS) color-color diagrams. Thus, in principle, the infrared spectrograph (IRS)-based IR photometric classification techniques applied here to the LMC can be applied to any external galaxy whose most luminous IR point sources are detectable and resolvable by 2MASS and Spitzer.