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Published September 2005 | Published + Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

C and N Abundances in Stars at the Base of the Red Giant Branch in M15


We present an analysis of a large sample of moderate-resolution Keck Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer spectra of subgiants and stars at the base of the red giant branch (RGB) in the Galactic globular cluster (GC) M15 (NGC 7078), most within the range 16.5 < V < 19.5 (1.2 < M_V < 4.2), with the goal of deriving C abundances (from the G band of CH) and N abundances (from the NH band at 3360 Å). Star-to-star stochastic variations with significant range in both [C/Fe] and [N/Fe] are found at all luminosities extending to the subgiants at M_V ~ +3. The C and N abundances appear anticorrelated, as would be expected from the CN-cycle processing of stellar material. Yet these M15 stars are considerably fainter than the RGB bump, the point at which deep mixing is believed to set in. On this basis, while the observed abundance pattern is consistent with proton-capture nucleosynthesis, we infer that the site of the reactions is likely not within the present sample. The range of variation of the N abundances is very large, and the sum of C + N increases as C decreases. To reproduce this requires the incorporation not only of CN but also of ON-processed material. Combining our work with that of Trefzger and coworkers for the brighter giants in M15, we find strong evidence for additional depletion of C among the most luminous giants. This presumably represents the first dredge-up (with enhanced deep mixing) expected for such luminous cluster RGB stars in the course of normal stellar evolution as they cross the RGB bump. We compare the behavior of these patterns for C and N in GCs covering a wide range of metallicity and current mass. While all clusters studied show strong anticorrelated variations of C and N at all luminosities probed, the metal-rich clusters (M71, 47 Tuc, and M5) do not show evidence for the first dredge-up among their most luminous giants, while the metal-poor ones (M13, M92, and M15, plus M5) do. Conversely, the metal-poor clusters do not show evidence for the bimodality in CH and CN line strengths seen in the metal-rich clusters. The collected data on C and N abundances in low-luminosity GC stars cannot be explained by the commonly invoked models for the chemical evolution of GC stars; in particular, "pollution" of existing low-mass stars by ejecta from intermediate-mass asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars can be ruled out. Pollution of cluster gas by such stars prior to the formation of the lower mass stars we observe today can also be ruled out unless current models of nucleosynthesis and dredge-up into the surface layers of AGB stars are flawed; such models agree qualitatively but disagree quantitatively with our data. We are forced to assume that there was an extended period of star formation in GCs, and that a previous generation of more massive stars evolved, ejected mass, and polluted the GC gas with light elements; the low-mass stars we see today formed afterward. A tentative scenario is developed involving an initial phase of star formation heavily biased toward high-mass stars, with subsequent formation of intermediate-mass, then low-mass stars.

Additional Information

© 2005 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2005 January 31; accepted 2005 May 11. Based on observations obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated jointly by the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The entire Keck HIRES and LRIS user communities owe a huge debt to Jerry Nelson, Gerry Smith, Steve Vogt, Bev Oke, and many other people who have worked to make the Keck Telescope and HIRES and LRIS a reality and to operate and maintain the Keck Observatory. We are grateful to the W. M. Keck Foundation for the vision to fund the construction of the W. M. Keck Observatory. The authors wish to extend special thanks to those of Hawaiian ancestry on whose sacred mountain we are privileged to be guests. Without their generous hospitality, none of the observations presented herein would have been possible. J. G. C. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation (under grant AST 02-5951), and M. M. B. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation (under grant AST 00-98489) and the F. John Barlow endowed professorship. We are also in debt to Roger Bell for the use of the SSG program, the dean of the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh College of Letters and Sciences for the workstation that made the extensive modeling possible, and Jorge Meléndez for the IR observations. This work has made use of the USNOFS Image and Catalog Archive operated by the United States Naval Observatory, Flagstaff Station (http://www.nofs.navy.mil /data /fchpix). This publication makes use of data from the Two Micron All Sky Survey, which is a joint project of the University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation.

Attached Files

Published - Cohen_2005_AJ_130_1177.pdf

Accepted Version - 0505263.pdf


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