Astrophys. J., 511, 639-659 (1999/February-1)
Heavy-element abundances in blue compact galaxies.
IZOTOV Y.I. and THUAN T.X.
Abstract (from CDS):
We present high-quality ground-based spectroscopic observations of 54 supergiant H II regions in 50 low-metallicity blue compact galaxies with oxygen abundances 12+logO/H between 7.1 and 8.3. We use the data to determine abundances for the elements N, O, Ne, S, Ar, and Fe. We also analyze Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Faint Object Spectrograph archival spectra of 10 supergiant H II regions to derive C and Si abundances in a subsample of seven BCGs. The main result of the present study is that none of the heavy element-to-oxygen abundance ratios studied here (C/O, N/O, Ne/O, Si/O, S/O, Ar/O, Fe/O) depend on oxygen abundance for BCGs with 12+logO/H≤7.6 (Z≤Z☉/20). This constancy implies that all of these heavy elements have a primary origin and are produced by the same massive (M≥10 M☉) stars responsible for O production. The dispersion of the ratios C/O and N/O in these galaxies is found to be remarkably small, being only ±0.03 and ±0.02 dex, respectively. This very small dispersion is strong evidence against any time-delayed production of C and primary N in the lowest metallicity BCGs (secondary N production is negligible at these low metallicities). The absence of a time-delayed production of C and N is consistent with the scenario that galaxies with 12+logO/H≤7.6 are now undergoing their first burst of star formation, and that they are therefore young, with ages not exceeding 40 Myr. If very low metallicity BCGs are indeed young, this would argue against the commonly held belief that C and N are produced by intermediate-mass (3 M☉≤M≤9 M☉) stars at very low metallicities, as these stars would not have yet completed their evolution in these lowest metallicity galaxies. In higher metallicity BCGs (7.6<12+logO/H<8.2), the abundance ratios Ne/O, Si/O, S/O, Ar/O, and Fe/O retain the same constant value they had at lower metallicities. By contrast, there is an increase of C/O and N/O along with their dispersions at a given O. We interpret this increase as due to the additional contribution of C and primary N production in intermediate-mass stars, on top of that by high-mass stars. The above results lead to the following timeline for galaxy evolution: (1) all objects with 12+logO/H≤7.6 began to form stars less than 40 Myr ago; (2) after 40 Myr, all galaxies have evolved so that 12+logO/H>7.6; (3) by the time intermediate-mass stars have evolved and released their nucleosynthetic products (100-500 Myr), all galaxies have become enriched to 7.6<12+logO/H<8.2. The delayed release of primary N at these metallicities greatly increases the scatter in N/O; (4) later, when galaxies get enriched to 12+logO/H>8.2, secondary N production becomes important. BCGs show the same O/Fe overabundance with respect to the Sun (∼0.4 dex) as Galactic halo stars, suggesting the same chemical enrichment history. We compare heavy elements yields derived from the observed abundance ratios with theoretical yields for massive stars and find general good agreement. However, the theoretical models are unable to reproduce the observed N/O and Fe/O. Further theoretical developments are necessary, in particular to solve the problem of primary nitrogen production in low-metallicity massive stars. We discuss the apparent discrepancy between abundance ratios N/O measured in BCGs and those in high-redshift damped Lyα galaxies, which are up to 1 order of magnitude smaller. We argue that this large discrepancy may arise from the unknown physical conditions of the gas responsible for the metallic absorption lines in high-redshift damped Lyα systems. While it is widely assumed that the absorbing gas is neutral, we propose that it could be ionized. In this case, ionization correction factors can boost N/O in damped Lyα galaxies into the range of those measured in BCGs.
Galaxies: Abundances - Galaxies: Compact - Galaxies: ISM
VizieR on-line data:
<Available at CDS (J/ApJ/511/639): table1.dat>
T.1 : 0907+527 not identified
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