EDP Sciences
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Volume 378, Number 3, November II 2001
Page(s) 817 - 825
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20011303

A&A 378, 817-825 (2001)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20011303

Collisional excitation of hydrogen and the determination of the primordial helium abundance from H II regions

G. Stasinska1 and Y. Izotov2

1  DAEC, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, 92195 Meudon Cedex, France
2  Main Astronomical Observatory, Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, Kyiv 03680, Ukraine
    e-mail: izotov@mao.kiev.ua

(Received 11 July 2001 / Accepted 10 September 2001 )

This paper investigates the effect of collisional enhancement of the hydrogen lines on the derivation of the helium abundances in low metallicity H II regions. For this, we have constructed a grid of photoionization models relevant for the analysis of giant H II regions in blue compact galaxies. We show that the effect of collisional excitation on the H$\alpha$/H$\beta$ ratio can be quite important (up to 8% or more). The impact of this effect on the determination of the helium mass fraction has been tracked on four low-metallicity blue compact galaxies for which Keck spectra are available and which are among the best objects for the quest for the pregalactic helium abundance. We find that taking into account the effects of collisional excitation of hydrogen results in an upward correction of the helium mass fraction Y by up to 5% . However, combined with other systematic effects usually not considered in the determination of the helium abundance in low-metallicity galaxies, the resulting uncertainty should be much less.

Key words: galaxies: abundances -- galaxies: ISM -- galaxies: starburst -- ISM: H II regions

Offprint request: G. Stasinska, grazyna.stasinska@obspm.fr

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