EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 426, Number 2, November I 2004
Page(s) 651 - 657
Section Stellar structure and evolution
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20041254

A&A 426, 651-657 (2004)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20041254

Beryllium in turnoff stars of NGC 6397: Early Galaxy spallation, cosmochronology and cluster formation

L. Pasquini1, P. Bonifacio2, S. Randich3, D. Galli3 and R. G. Gratton4

1  European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany
    e-mail: lpasquin@eso.org
2  INAF - Osservatorio di Trieste, Trieste, Italy
3  INAF - Osservatorio di Arcetri, Firenze, Italy
4  INAF - Osservatorio di Padova, Padova, Italy

(Received 7 May 2004 / Accepted 6 July 2004)

We present the first detection of beryllium in two turnoff stars of the old, metal-poor globular cluster NGC 6397. The beryllium lines are clearly detected and we determine a mean beryllium abundance of $\log$ (Be/H) = $-12.35 \pm 0.2$. The beryllium abundance is very similar to that of field stars of similar Fe content. We interpret the beryllium abundance observed as the result of primary spallation of cosmic rays acting on a Galactic scale, showing that beryllium can be used as a powerful cosmochronometer for the first stellar generations. With this method, we estimate that the cluster formed 0.2-0.3 Gyr after the onset of star formation in the Galaxy, in excellent agreement with the age derived from main sequence fitting. From the same spectra we also find low O (noticeably different for the two stars) and high N abundances, suggesting that the original gas was enriched in CNO processed material. Our beryllium results, together with the N, O, and Li abundances, provide insights on the formation of this globular cluster, showing that any CNO processing of the gas must have occurred in the protocluster cloud before the formation of the stars we observe now. We encounter, however, difficulties in giving a fully consistent picture of the cluster formation, able to explain the complex overall abundance pattern.

Key words: stars: abundances -- Galaxy: globular clusters: individual: NGC 6397 -- stars: formation -- ISM: cosmic rays -- stars: late-type

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© ESO 2004