Massive stars reveal variations of the stellar initial mass function in the Milky Way stellar clusters
(9 votes from 8 institutions)
We investigate whether the stellar initial mass function (IMF) is universal, or whether there are significant cluster-to-cluster variations of the IMF among young stellar clusters in the Milky Way. We propose a method to uncover the range of variation of the parameters that describe the IMF for the population of young clusters in the Milky Way. The method relies exclusively on the high mass content of the clusters, but is able to yield information on the distributions of parameters of the IMF over the entire stellar mass range. This is achieved by appropriately comparing the fractions of single and lonely massive O stars in a recent catalog of the Milky Way clusters with a large library of simulated clusters built with various distribution functions of the IMF parameters. The masses of synthetic clusters are randomly drawn using a power-law distributions function, while stellar masses in the clusters are randomly drawn using a tapered power-law function. The synthetic clusters are further corrected for the effects of binary population, stellar evolution, sample incompleteness, and estimates are made for the effects of ejected O stars. Our findings indicate that broad distributions of the IMF parameters are required in order to reproduce the fractions of single and lonely O stars in the Milky Way clusters and they do not lend support to the existence of a cluster mass-maximum stellar mass relation. We propose a probabilistic formulation of the IMF based on the distribution functions of its parameters.