Volume 480, Number 2, March III 2008
|Page(s)||349 - 357|
|Published online||09 January 2008|
The nitrogen and oxygen abundances in the neutral gas at high redshift*
Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, CNRS and UPMC Paris 6, UMR7095, 98bis boulevard Arago, 75014 Paris, France e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 European Southern Observatory, Alonso de Córdova 3107, Casilla 19001, Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
3 IUCAA, Post Bag 4, Ganesh Khind, Pune 411 007, India
Accepted: 18 December 2007
Aims.We study the oxygen and nitrogen abundances in the interstellar medium of high-redshift galaxies.
Methods.We use high resolution and high signal-to-noise ratio spectra of damped Lyman-α (DLA) systems detected along the line-of-sight to quasars to derive robust abundance measurements from unsaturated metal absorption lines.
Results.We present results for a sample of 16 high-redshift DLAs and strong sub-DLAs (log N(H I) > 19.5, 2.4 < zabs < 3.6) including 13 new measurements. We find that the oxygen to iron abundance ratio is pretty much constant with [O/Fe] ~ +0.32±0.10 for -2.5 < [O/H] < -1.0 with a small scatter around this value. The oxygen abundance follows quite well the silicon abundance within ~0.2 dex, although the silicon abundance could be slightly smaller for [O/H] < -2. The distribution of the [N/O] abundance ratio, measured from components that are detected in both species, is somehow double peaked: five systems have [N/O] > -1 and nine systems have [N/O] < -1.15. In the diagram [N/O] versus [O/H], a loose plateau is possibly present at [N/O] ~ -0.9, which is below the so-called primary plateau as seen in local metal-poor dwarf galaxies ([N/O] in the range -0.57 to -0.74). No system is seen above this primary plateau whereas the majority of the systems lie well below with a large scatter. All this suggests a picture in which DLAs undergo successive star-bursts. During such an episode, the [N/O] ratio decreases sharply because of the rapid release of oxygen by massive stars, whereas inbetween two bursts, nitrogen is released by low and intermediate-mass stars with a delay and the [N/O] ratio increases.
Key words: ISM: abundances / Galaxy: abundances / galaxies: quasars: absorption lines
Based on observations carried out at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), under visitor mode progs. ID 65.O-0063, 66.A-0624, 67.A-0078 and 68.A-0600 with the UVES echelle spectrograph installed at the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), unit Kueyen, on mount Paranal in Chile. Also based on archival data from progs. 68.A-0492 (PI: D'Odorico), 68.B-0115 (PI: Molaro) and 69.A-0051 (PI: Pettini).
© ESO, 2008
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