A unique instrument for the biggest telescope

The oldest and lowest metallicity stars that exist today carry the imprint of the first massive stars that ended their lives as supernovae. We can constrain star formation in very metal-poor environments by analysing the metallicity distribution functions (MDFs) of stellar populations in the local Universe. Specifically, we are interested in probing the MDFs in a variety of environments, from the outer stellar halo in the Galaxy to the bulge, as well as in other galaxies in the Local Group (mostly dwarf spheroidals and ultra-diffuse dwarfs).

The characterization of primordial stars in the Galaxy has great scientific potential. These stars are the long-lived descendants from the earliest stellar generations and will have formed from a (near-)pristine ISM, which would have only been weakly enriched in metals from the first supernovae. Their atmospheres therefore give us a fossil record of the ISM from which they were formed, corresponding to redshifts of z ≥ 10. Having a direct tracer of chemical abundances at such an early time can provide fundamental constraints on the properties of the first generations of stars. The limit of the current observations do not allow to discriminate between different theoretical models on e.g. the need and the level of a “critical metallicity” for the formation of low mass stars. MOSAIC will allow to greatly increase the constraints on the low-metallicity tail of the MDF which would result in stronger constraints on the formation models.

The stellar populations of the Galactic bulge are a template for studies of ellipticals and bulges of spirals. The formation history of the bulge can give hints on proto-galaxy counterparts observed at high-redshift, providing strong motivation for the detailed study of this component of our Galaxy. The formation of our bulge is still a controversial issue, and it is probably a combination of a pseudo-bulge population, and an old, spheroidal, true bulge. Studies of the chemical compositions and kinematics of its stellar populations will be the key to disentangle its formation mechanism(s). Current high-spectral resolution observations in the optical (e.g. with VLT/FLAMES) are limited to giant stars, but observations of dwarfs will be important to disentangle the complex mix of stellar populations in the bulge. Currently, few dwarfs have been studied via microlensing techniques, but with MOSAIC a significantly larger population of dwarf will be accessible in the Galactic bulge.

As for extragalactic studies, the current limiting factor is that only giant stars are bright enough to have high quality, high-resolution spectroscopy with an 8-m class telescope. Unfortunately, the statistics available from the analysis of extragalactic red giant branch (RGB) stars is not sufficient to determine the metal-poor tail of the MDF robustly in their host galaxies. There are simply not enough giant-branch stars in most of the LG dwarf galaxies to sample these rare populations and to observe these faint stars in extragalactic systems we need the sensitivity of the E-ELT. One then needs large samples of stars at the main-sequence turn-off (MSTO), in multiple nearby galaxies.