Volume 538, February 2012
|Number of page(s)||17|
|Published online||09 February 2012|
Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen,
PO Box 800,
2 Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, CNRS, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, Laboratoire Cassiopée, 06304 Nice Cedex 4, France
3 Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Victoria, 3800 Finerty Road, Victoria, BC V8P 1A1, Canada
4 McDonald Observatory, University of Texas at Austin, HC75 Box 1337-MCD, Fort Davis, TX 79734, USA
5 Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0HA, UK
Received: 21 September 2011
Accepted: 27 November 2011
Context. The ages of individual red giant branch stars can range from 1 Gyr old to the age of the Universe, and it is believed that the abundances of most chemical elements in their photospheres remain unchanged with time (those that are not affected by the first dredge-up). This means that they trace the interstellar medium in the galaxy at the time the star formed, and hence the chemical enrichment history of the galaxy.
Aims. Colour–magnitude diagram analysis has shown the Carina dwarf spheroidal to have had an unusually episodic star formation history and this is expected to be reflected in the abundances of different chemical elements.
Methods. We use the VLT-FLAMES multi-fibre spectrograph in high-resolution mode (R ≈ 20 000) to measure the abundances of several chemical elements, including Fe, Mg, Ca and Ba, in a sample of 35 individual Red Giant Branch stars in the Carina dwarf spheroidal galaxy. We also combine these abundances with photometry to derive age estimates for these stars. This allows us to determine which of two distinct star formation episodes the stars in our sample belong to, and thus to define the relationship between star formation and chemical enrichment during these two episodes.
Results. As is expected from the star formation history, Carina contains two distinct populations of Red Giant Branch stars: one old (≳10 Gyr), which we have found to be metal-poor ([Fe/H] < −1.5), and α-rich ([Mg/Fe] > 0); the other intermediate age (≈2–6 Gyr), which we have found to have a metallicity range (−1.8 < [Fe/H] < −1.2) with a large spread in [α/Fe] abundance, going from extremely low values ([Mg/Fe] < −0.3) to the same mean values as the older population (⟨ [Mg/Fe] ⟩ ~ 0.3).
Conclusions. We show that the chemical enrichment history of the Carina dwarf spheroidal was different for each star formation episode. The earliest was short (~2–3 Gyr) and resulted in the rapid chemical enrichment of the whole galaxy to [Fe/H] ~− 1.5 with both SNe II and SNe Ia contributions. The subsequent episode occured after a gap of ~3–4 Gyr, forming ~70% of the stars in the Carina dSph, but it appears to have resulted in relatively little evolution in either [Fe/H] or [α/Fe].
Key words: stars: abundances / galaxies: individual: Carina dwarf spheroidal / galaxies: evolution
Based on FLAMES observations collected at the European Southern Observatory, proposals numbers 074.B-0415 and 076.B-0146.
Tables 3, 4, 7–9 are only available at the CDS via anonymous ftp to cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (126.96.36.199) or via http://cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr/viz-bin/qcat?J/A+A/538/A100
© ESO, 2012
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