Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics & Astronomy
College Station, Texas 77843
Red supergiants (RSGs) are the helium-fusing evolved descendants of moderately massive (10-25Mo) stars, the result of a near-horizontal evolution across the top of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram following their time on the main sequence. As the coldest and largest (in physical size) members of the massive star population, these stars represent a significant evolutionary extreme and serve as ideal “magnifying glasses” for scrutinizing our current understanding of massive stars and their role in the universe. RSGs are significant dust producers in young stellar populations, the observationallyconfirmed progenitors of core-collapse supernovae, and a crucial step in the formation and population statistics of massive interacting binaries (including those that will ultimately produce compact object binaries and gravitational waves). Observations of RSGs can also be used to test stellar evolution and population models and as metallicity indicators in nearby galaxies. This talk will provide an overview of our field’s knowledge of RSGs, identify some of the most pressing current questions about these stars, and consider the importance of RSGs in the coming decade as the next generation of observatories - including JWST, WFIRST, and the ELTs - comes online.