Gas metallicity diagnostics in star-forming galaxies
INAF – Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Largo Enrico Fermi 5, 50125 Firenze, Italy e-mail: [tohru;maiolino;marconi]@arcetri.astro.it
2 National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, 2-21-1 Osawa, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-8588, Japan
3 INAF – Osservatorio Astrofisico di Roma, Via di Frascati 33, 00040 Monte Porzio Catone, Italy
Accepted: 10 August 2006
Generally the gas metallicity in distant galaxies can only be inferred by using a few prominent emission lines. Various theoretical models have been used to predict the relationship between emission line fluxes and metallicity, suggesting that some line ratios can be used as diagnostics of the gas metallicity in galaxies. However, accurate empirical calibrations of these emission line flux ratios from real galaxy spectra spanning a wide metallicity range are still lacking. In this paper we provide such empirical calibrations by using the combination of two sets of spectroscopic data: one consisting of low-metallicity galaxies with a measurement of [Oiii]λ4363 taken from the literature, including spectra from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and the other one consisting of galaxies in the SDSS database whose gas metallicity has been determined from various strong emission lines in their spectra. This combined data set constitutes the largest sample of galaxies with information on the gas metallicity available so far and spanning the widest metallicity range. By using these data we obtain accurate empirical relations between gas metallicity and several emission line diagnostics, including the R23 parameter, the [Nii]λ6584/Hα and [Oiii]λ5007/[Nii]λ6584 ratios. Our empirical diagrams show that the line ratio [Oiii]λ5007/[Oii]λ3727 is a useful tool to break the degeneracy in the R23 parameter when no information on the [Nii]λ6584 line is available. The line ratio [Neiii]λ3869/[Oii]λ3727 also results to be a useful metallicity indicator for high-z galaxies, especially when the R23 parameter or other diagnostics involving [Oiii]λ5007 or [Nii]λ6584 are not available. Additional, useful diagnostics newly proposed in this paper are the line ratios of (Hα+[Nii]6548,6584)/[Sii]λ6720, [Oiii]λ5007/Hβ, and [Oii]λ3727/Hβ. Finally, we compare these empirical relations with photoionization models. We find that the empirical R23-metallicity sequence is strongly discrepant with respect to the trend expected by models with constant ionization parameter. Such a discrepancy is also found for other line ratios. These discrepancies provide evidence for a strong metallicity dependence of the average ionization parameter in galaxies. In particular, we find that the average ionization parameter in galaxies increases by ~0.7 dex as the metallicity decreases from 2 to 0.05 , with a small dispersion. This result should warn about the use of theoretical models with constant ionization parameter to infer metallicities from observed line ratios.
Key words: galaxies: abundances / galaxies: evolution / galaxies: general / galaxies: ISM / Hii regions
© ESO, 2006