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Spitzer Space Telescope spectral observations of AGB stars in the Fornax dwarf spheroidal galaxy




We have observed five carbon-rich asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars in the Fornax dwarf spheroidal (dSph) galaxy, using the Infrared Spectrometer on board the Spitzer Space Telescope. The stars were selected from a near-infrared survey of Fornax and include the three reddest stars, with presumably the highest mass-loss rates, in that galaxy. Such carbon stars probably belong to the intermediate-age population (2–8 Gyr old and metallicity of [Fe/H]∼−1) of Fornax. The primary aim of this paper is to investigate mass-loss rate, as a function of luminosity and metallicity, by comparing AGB stars in several galaxies with different metallicities. The spectra of three stars are fitted with a radiative transfer model. We find that mass-loss rates of these three stars are 4–7 × 10−6 M yr−1. The other two stars have mass-loss rates below 1.3 × 10−6 M yr−1. We find no evidence that these rates depend on metallicity, although we do suggest that the gas-to-dust ratio could be higher than at solar metallicity, in the range 240 to 800. The C2H2 bands are stronger at lower metallicity because of the higher C/O ratio. In contrast, the SiC fraction is reduced at low metallicity due to low silicon abundance. The total mass-loss rate from all known carbon-rich AGB stars into the interstellar medium (ISM) of this galaxy is of the order of 2 × 10−5 M yr−1. This is much lower than that of the dwarf irregular galaxy Wolf Lundmark Melotte (WLM), which has a similar visual luminosity and metallicity. The difference is attributed to the younger stellar population of WLM. The suppressed gas-return rate to the ISM accentuates the difference between the relatively gas-rich dwarf irregular and the gas-poor dSph galaxies. Our study will be useful to constrain gas and dust recycling processes in low-metallicity galaxies.