The chemical evolution of the globular cluster ω Centauri (NGC 5139)

Verne V. Smith, Nicholas B. Suntzeff, Katia Cunha, Roberto Gallino, Maurizio Busso, David L. Lambert, Oscar Straniero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

209 Scopus citations


We present abundances for 22 chemical elements in 10 red giant members of the massive Galactic globular cluster ω Centauri. The spectra are of relatively high spectral resolution and signal-to-noise. Using these abundances plus published literature values, abundance trends are defined as a function of the standard metallicity indicator iron. The lowest metallicity stars in ω Cen have [Fe/H] ≃ -1.8, and the initial abundance distribution in the cluster is established at this metallicity. The stars in the cluster span a range of [Fe/H] ∼ -1.8 to -0.8. At the lowest metallicity, the heavy-element abundance is found to be well characterized by a scaled solar system r-process distribution, as found in other stellar populations at this metallicity. As iron increases, the s-process heavy-element abundances increase dramatically. Comparisons of the s-process increases with recent stellar models finds that s-process nucleosynthesis in 1.5-3 M asymptotic giant branch stars (AGB) fits well the heavy-element abundance distributions. In these low-mass AGB stars, the dominant neutron source is 13C(α,n) 16O. A comparison of the Rb/Zr abundance ratios in ω Cen finds that these ratios are consistent with the 13C source. The reason ω Cen displays such a large s-process component is possibly due to the fact that in such a relatively low-mass stellar system, AGB ejecta, because of their low velocity winds, are more efficiently retained in the cluster relative to the much faster moving Type II supernova ejecta. Significant s-process enrichment relative to Fe, from the lower mass AGB stars, would require that the cluster was active in star formation for quite a long interval of time, of the order of 2-3 Gyr. The AGB ejecta were mixed with the retained fraction of Type II supernova ejecta and with the residual gas of initial composition. The analysis of α-rich elements shows that no significant amounts of Type Ia supernova debris were retained by the cluster. In this context, interpretation of the low and constant observed [Cu/Fe] ∼ -0.6 (derived here for the first time in this cluster) finds a plausible interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1239-1258
Number of pages20
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Globular clusters: individual (ω Centauri)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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