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Title: First VLT/X-shooter spectroscopy of early-type stars outside the Local Group
Authors: Olga Hartoog, Hugues Sana, Alex de Koter, Lex Kaper

As part of the VLT/X-shooter science verification, we obtained the first optical medium-resolution spectrum of a previously identified bright O-type object in NGC55, an LMC-like galaxy at a distance of ~2.0 Mpc. Based on the stellar and nebular spectrum, we investigate the nature and evolutionary status of the central object(s) and its influence on the surrounding interstellar medium. We conclude that the source, NGC55_C1_31, is a composite object, likely a stellar cluster, which contains one or several hot (T_eff \simeq 50000 K) WN stars with a high mass-loss rate (~3 x 10^{-5} solar masses yr^{-1}) and a helium-rich composition (N_He/N_H = 0.8). The visual flux is dominated by OB-type (super)giant stars with T_eff \sim< 35000 K, solar helium abundance (N_He/N_H = 0.1), and mass-loss rate ~2 x 10^{-6} solar masses yr^{-1}. The surrounding H II region has an electron density n_e < 10^2 cm^{-3} and an electron temperature T(OIII) \simeq 11500 600 K. The oxygen abundance of this region is [O/H] = 8.18 0.03 which corresponds to Z = 0.31 0.04 Z_\odot. We observed no significant gradients in T(OIII), n_e or [O/H] on a scale of 73 pc extending in four directions from the ionising source. The properties of the HII region can be reproduced by a CLOUDY model which uses the central cluster as ionising source, thus providing a self-consistent interpretation of the data. We also report on the serendipitous discovery of HeII nebular emission associated with the nearby source NGC55_C2_35, a feature usually associated with strong X-ray sources.

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To celebrate the 100 Hours of Astronomy, ESO is sharing two stunning images of unusual galaxies, both belonging to the Sculptor group of galaxies. The images, obtained at two of ESO's observatories at La Silla and Paranal in Chile, illustrate the beauty of astronomy.

The first of these depicts the irregular galaxy NGC 55, a member of the prominent Sculptor group of galaxies in the southern constellation of Sculptor. The galaxy is about 70 000 light-years across, that is, a little bit smaller than our own Milky Way. NGC 55 actually resembles more our galactic neighbour, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), although the LMC is seen face-on, whilst NGC 55 is edge-on.

The second image shows another galaxy belonging to the Sculptor group. This is NGC 7793, which has a chaotic spiral structure, unlike the class of grand-design spiral galaxies to which our Milky Way belongs. The image shows how difficult it is to identify any particular spiral arm in these chaotic structures, although it is possible to guess at a general rotating pattern. NGC 7793 is located slightly further away than NGC 55, about 12.5 million light-years from us, and is about half the size of NGC 55.

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Title: The Araucaria Project. The Distance to the Sculptor Group Galaxy NGC 55 from a Newly Discovered Abundant Cepheid Population
Authors: G. Pietrzynski, W. Gieren, I. Soszynski, A. Udalski, F. Bresolin, R.-P. Kudritzki, R. Mennickent, A. Walker, A. Garcia, O. Szewczyk, M. Szymanski, M. Kubiak, L. Wyrzykowski

We have detected, for the first time, Cepheid variables in the Sculptor Group SB(s)m galaxy NGC 55. From wide-field images obtained in the optical V and I bands during 77 nights in 2002-2003, we have found 143 Cepheids with periods ranging from 5.6 to 175.9 days. 133 of these objects have periods longer than 10 days, making NGC 55 to-date the galaxy with the largest known number of long-period Cepheids in the Sculptor Group. We construct period-luminosity relations from our data and obtain distance moduli corrected for the small foreground reddening to NGC 55 of 26.79 0.04 mag (internal error) in V, 26.66 0.03 mag in I and 26.40 0.05 mag in the reddening-independent V-I Wesenheit index. The trend of increasing distance moduli with shorter wavelength hints at the existence of significant reddening intrinsic to NGC 55 which affects the measured Cepheid magnitudes. From our data, we determine the intrinsic mean reddening of the Cepheids in NGC 55 as E(B-V) = 0.102 mag which brings the distance determinations from the different bands into excellent agreement. Our best distance estimate for NGC 55 from the present optical Cepheid photometry is 26.40 mag 0.05 mag (internal error) 0.09 mag (systematic error). This value is tied to an assumed LMC distance of 18.50 mag. Our quoted systematic error of the present NGC 55 Cepheid distance does not take into account the current uncertainty on the distance of the fiducial LMC galaxy itself.
Within the small respective uncertainties, the Sculptor Group galaxies NGC 55 and NGC 300 are at the same distance of 1.9 Mpc, strengthening the case for a physical association of these galaxies

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