Author(s): , , ,
Institution(s): 1. Universidad de Alicante, 2. University of Cambridge
Recent searches for supernova IIp progenitors in external galaxies have led to the identification of red objects with magnitudes and colours indicative of red supergiants, in most cases implying quite low luminosities and hence masses well below 10Msol. Stellar models, on the other hand, do not predict explosions from objects below 9 Msol. What does our knowledge of local red supergiants tells us about the expected properties of such objects?
We have carried out a comprehensive spectroscopic and photometric study of a sample of hundreds of red supergiants in the Milky Way and both Magellanic Clouds. We have explored correlations between different parameters and the position of stars in the HR diagrams of open clusters. At solar metallicty, there is strong evidence for a phase of very heavy mass loss at the end of the red supergiant phase, but the existence of such a phase is still not confirmed at SMC metallicities. Objects of ~ 7Msol, on the other hand, become very dusty in the SMC, and appear as very luminous Miras.
Among Milky Way clusters, we find a surprising lack of objects readily identifiable as the expected 7 to 10 Msol red supergiants or AGB stars. We are carrying out an open cluster survey aimed at filling this region of the HR diagram with reliable data. Finally, we will discuss the implications of all this findings for the expected properties of supernova progenitors, as it looks unlikely that typical red supergiants may explode without undergoing further evolution.