We have conducted a near-infrared monitoring campaign at the UK Infrared Telescope, of the Local Group spiral galaxy M33 (Triangulum). The main aim was to identify stars in the very final stage of their evolution, and for which the luminosity is more directly related to the birth mass than the more numerous less-evolved giant stars that continue to increase in luminosity. In this second paper of the series, we construct the birth mass function and hence derive the star formation history. The star formation rate has varied between ∼0.002 and 0.007 M⊙ yr−1 kpc−2. We give evidence of two epochs of a star formation rate enhanced by a factor of a few – one that happened ≥6 Gyr ago and produced ≥80 per cent of the total mass in stars, and one around 250 Myr ago that lasted ∼200 Myr and formed ≤6 per cent of the mass in stars. We construct radial and azimuthal distributions in the image plane and in the galaxy plane for populations associated with old first-ascent red giant branch (RGB) stars, intermediate-age asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars and young (massive) blue and red supergiants. We find that the RGB stars follow an spheroidal distribution, while younger stars follow a flat-disc distribution. The intermediate-age population displays signs of a pseudo-bulge or possibly a bar. The inner spiral arm pattern as recorded in mid-19th-century drawings is confirmed. We interpret our findings as evidence for an old, pressure-supported component and a younger disc formed 6 Gyr ago, with an accretion event occurring 250 Myr ago giving rise to the compact nucleus in M33. Our study provides support for recent Padova stellar evolution models except that super-AGB stars likely reach low temperatures and thus high mass-loss rates, supporting the super-AGB nature of the progenitors of dust-enshrouded supernovae such as SN 2008S.
Keywords: stars: evolution; stars: luminosity function, mass function; galaxies: individual: M33; galaxies: star formation; galaxies: stellar content; galaxies: structure
Journal Article. 11738 words. Illustrated.
Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics
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