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Abstract

Whether the stellar initial mass function (IMF) is universal or is instead sensitive to environmental conditions is of critical importance: The IMF influences most observable properties of stellar populations and thus galaxies, and detecting variations in the IMF could provide deep insights into the star formation process. This review critically examines reports of IMF variations, with a view toward whether other explanations are sufficient given the evidence. Studies of the field, young clusters and associations, and old globular clusters suggest that the vast majority were drawn from a universal system IMF: a power law of Salpeter index (Γ = 1.35) above a few solar masses, and a log normal or shallower power law (Γ ∼ 0–0.25) for lower mass stars. The shape and universality of the substellar IMF is still under investigation. Observations of resolved stellar populations and the integrated properties of most galaxies are also consistent with a universal IMF, suggesting no gross variations over much of cosmic time. Indications of “nonstandard” IMFs in specific local and extragalactic environments clearly warrant further study. However, there is no clear evidence that the IMF varies strongly and systematically as a function of initial conditions after the first few generations of stars.

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/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-astro-082708-101642
2010-09-22
2024-06-17
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  • Article Type: Review Article
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