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The origin of carbon: Low-mass stars and an evolving, initially top-heavy IMF?
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy.
2010 (English)In: Astronomy and Astrophysics, ISSN 0004-6361, E-ISSN 1432-0746, Vol. 515, A68- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Multi-zone chemical evolution models (CEMs), differing in the nucleosynthesis prescriptions (yields) and prescriptions of star formation, have been computed for the Milky Way. All models fit the observed O/H and Fe/H gradients well and reproduce the main characteristics of the gas distribution, but they are also designed to do so. For the C/H gradient the results are inconclusive with regards to yields and star formation. The C/Fe and O/Fe vs. Fe/H, as well as C/O vs. O/H trends predicted by the models for the solar neighbourhood zone were compared with stellar abundances from the literature. For O/Fe vs. Fe/H all models fit the data, but for C/O vs. O/H, only models with increased carbon yields for zero-metallicity stars or an evolving initial mass function provide good fits. Furthermore, a steep star formation threshold in the disc can be ruled out since it predicts a steep fall-off in all abundance gradients beyond a certain galactocentric distance (similar to 13 kpc) and cannot explain the possible flattening of the C/H and Fe/H gradients in the outer disc seen in observations. Since in the best-fit models the enrichment scenario is such that carbon is primarily produced in low-mass stars, it is suggested that in every environment where the peak of star formation happened a few Gyr back in time, winds of carbon-stars are responsible for most of the carbon enrichment. However, a significant contribution by zero-metallicity stars, especially at very early stages, and by winds of high-mass stars, which are increasing in strength with metallicity, cannot be ruled out by the CEMs presented here. In the solar neighbourhood, as much as 80%, or as little as 40% of the carbon may have been injected to the interstellar medium by low- and intermediate-mass stars. The stellar origin of carbon remains an open question, although production in low-and intermediate-mass stars appears to be the simplest explanation of observed carbon abundance trends.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. Vol. 515, A68- p.
Keyword [en]
Galaxy: abundances; Galaxy: evolution; Galaxy: formation; Galaxy: stellar content; Stars: carbon; Stars: mass-loss
National Category
Physical Sciences
Research subject
Astronomy; Physics
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-99581DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200913315ISI: 000280505000037OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-99581DiVA: diva2:208229
Uppdaterad från Manuskript till Artikel 20101208Available from: 2009-03-16 Created: 2009-03-16 Last updated: 2010-12-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. On the Winds of Carbon Stars and the Origin of Carbon: A Theoretical Study
Open this publication in new window or tab >>On the Winds of Carbon Stars and the Origin of Carbon: A Theoretical Study
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Carbon is the basis for life, as we know it, but its origin is still largely unclear. Carbon-rich Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars (carbon stars) play an important rôle in the cosmic matter cycle and may contribute most of the carbon in the Galaxy.

In this thesis it is explored how the dust-driven mass loss of these stars depends on the basic stellar parameters by computing a large grid of wind models. The existence of a critical wind regime and mass-loss thresholds for dust-driven winds are confirmed. Furthermore, a steep dependence of mass loss on carbon excess is found. Exploratory work on the effects of different stellar metallicities and the sizes of dust grains shows that strong dust-driven winds develop also at moderately low metallicities, and that typical sizes of dust grains affect the wind properties near a mass-loss threshold.

It is demonstrated that the mass-loss rates obtained with the wind models have dramatic consequences when used in models of carbon-star evolution. A pronounced superwind develops soon after the star becomes carbon rich, and it therefore experiences only a few thermal pulses as a carbon star before the envelope is lost. The number of dredge-up events and the thermal pulses is limited by a self-regulating mechanism: each thermal pulse dredges up carbon, which increases the carbon excess and hence also the mass-loss rate. In turn, this limits the number of thermal pulses.

The mass-loss evolution during a thermal pulse (He-shell flash) is considered as an explanation of the observations of so-called detached shells around carbon stars. By combining models of dust-driven winds with a stellar evolution model, and a simple hydrodynamic model of the circumstellar envelope, it is shown that wind properties change character during a He-shell flash such that a thin detached gas shell can form by wind-wind interaction.

Finally, it is suggested that carbon stars are responsible for much of the carbon in the interstellar medium, but a scenario where high-mass stars are major carbon producers cannot be excluded. In either case, however, the carbon abundances of the outer Galactic disc are relatively low, and most of the carbon has been released quite recently. Thus, there may neither be enough carbon, nor enough time, for more advanced carbon-based life to emerge in the outer Galaxy. This lends some support to the idea that only the mid-part of the Galactic disc can be a “Galactic habitable zone”, since the inner parts of the Galaxy are plagued by frequent supernova events that are presumably harmful to all forms of life.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2009. 105 p.
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology, ISSN 1651-6214 ; 625
AGB stars, carbon stars, mass loss, stellar winds, circumstellar matter, cosmic dust, stellar evolution, nucleosynthesis, galactic chemical evolution
National Category
Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
Research subject
Astronomy; Physics
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-99593 (URN)978-91-554-7472-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2009-04-29, Ångströmlaboratoriet, Sal 4001, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala, 14:00 (English)
Available from: 2009-04-08 Created: 2009-03-16 Last updated: 2010-12-08Bibliographically approved

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