Galactic archaeology with metal-poor stars

  • Datum: 2017-03-10 kl 13:15
  • Plats: Polhemsalen, Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala
  • Föreläsare: Nordlander, Thomas
  • Webbsida
  • Arrangör: Observationell astrofysik
  • Kontaktperson: Nordlander, Thomas
  • Disputation

The chemical fingerprints of old, metal-poor stars can be used to unravel the events of the newborn Universe and help us understand the properties of the first stars and star clusters.

The study of nearby stars to infer properties in the distant past is often referred to as Galactic archaeology. However, the chemical composition of stars cannot be observed directly, but must be inferred by means of spectroscopic modelling. Traditionally, this modelling utilises one-dimensional (1D) stellar atmospheres in hydrostatic and local thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE). Today, we know that departures from LTE (known as NLTE), and differences between 1D model atmospheres and their hydrodynamical three-dimensional (3D) counterparts, become increasingly severe at lower metallicity. The development of NLTE modelling of spectral line formation in 3D atmospheres is still in its infancy, but constitutes a remarkable step forward that has been made possible by parallelised codes and supercomputers. The central theme of this thesis is the application of NLTE analyses to metal-poor stars, to help usher the field of Galactic archaeology forward with important consequences for the nature of the first stellar generations.

I present a theoretical NLTE study of aluminium, where I validate the analysis using a set of bright standard stars and provide calculated NLTE effects for a large parameter space. I perform 3D NLTE calculations for the solar spectrum to better constrain the zero-point of the cosmic abundance scale, and find excellent agreement with the meteoritic aluminium abundance.

I also present NLTE analyses of metal-poor stars in the globular clusters NGC 6397 and M4. While globular cluster stars were long expected to form from a chemically homogeneous medium, star-to-star abundance variations of light elements indicate multiple epochs of star formation. Massive first-generation stars polluted the interstellar medium from which later generations formed, and I use the observed abundance variations to deduce the properties of the polluting stars. Among the heavier elements, I uncover evolutionary abundance variations that match predictions of stellar evolution models with atomic diffusion. The results indicate that the chemical abundance ratios of unevolved metal-poor stars are affected by gravitational settling, with a bias of the order 25-50 %, increasing towards lower metallicity. This atmospheric depletion mechanism is a probable explanation to why the stellar abundances of lithium fall short of the predictions from standard Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

Finally, I apply a 3D NLTE abundance analysis to the red giant SMSS 0313-6708, which is the most iron-deficient star known. The chemical abundance pattern of this star indicates that it formed from gas affected only by Big Bang nucleosynthesis and a single faint supernova. Comparison of the inferred abundance pattern to theoretical predictions leads to constraints on the explosion mechanism and the mass of the metal-free progenitor star.