Tracing chemical evolution over the extent of the milky way's disk with APOGEE red clump stars

David L. Nidever, Jo Bovy, Jonathan C. Bird, Brett H. Andrews, Michael Hayden, Jon Holtzman, Steven R. Majewski, Verne Smith, Annie C. Robin, Ana E. García Pérez, Katia Cunha, Carlos Allende Prieto, Gail Zasowski, Ricardo P. Schiavon, Jennifer A. Johnson, David H. Weinberg, Diane Feuillet, Donald P. Schneider, Matthew Shetrone, Jennifer SobeckD. A. García-Hernández, O. Zamora, Hans Walter Rix, Timothy C. Beers, John C. Wilson, Robert W. O'Connell, Ivan Minchev, Cristina Chiappini, Friedrich Anders, Dmitry Bizyaev, Howard Brewington, Garrett Ebelke, Peter M. Frinchaboy, Jian Ge, Karen Kinemuchi, Elena Malanushenko, Viktor Malanushenko, Moses Marchante, Szabolcs Mészáros, Daniel Oravetz, Kaike Pan, Audrey Simmons, Michael F. Skrutskie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

180 Scopus citations


We employ the first two years of data from the near-infrared, high-resolution SDSS-III/APOGEE spectroscopic survey to investigate the distribution of metallicity and α-element abundances of stars over a large part of the Milky Way disk. Using a sample of ≈10, 000 kinematically unbiased red-clump stars with ∼5% distance accuracy as tracers, the [α/Fe] versus [Fe/H] distribution of this sample exhibits a bimodality in [α/Fe] at intermediate metallicities, -0.9 < [Fe/H] <-0.2, but at higher metallicities ([Fe/H] ∼+0.2) the two sequences smoothly merge. We investigate the effects of the APOGEE selection function and volume filling fraction and find that these have little qualitative impact on the α-element abundance patterns. The described abundance pattern is found throughout the range 5 < R < 11 kpc and 0 < |Z| < 2 kpc across the Galaxy. The [α/Fe] trend of the high-α sequence is surprisingly constant throughout the Galaxy, with little variation from region to region (∼10%). Using simple galactic chemical evolution models, we derive an average star-formation efficiency (SFE) in the high-α sequence of ∼4.5 × 10-10 yr-1, which is quite close to the nearly constant value found in molecular-gas-dominated regions of nearby spirals. This result suggests that the early evolution of the Milky Way disk was characterized by stars that shared a similar star-formation history and were formed in a well-mixed, turbulent, and molecular-dominated ISM with a gas consumption timescale (SFE-1) of ∼2 Gyr. Finally, while the two α-element sequences in the inner Galaxy can be explained by a single chemical evolutionary track, this cannot hold in the outer Galaxy, requiring, instead, a mix of two or more populations with distinct enrichment histories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number38
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 20 2014


  • Galaxy: abundances
  • Galaxy: disk
  • Galaxy: evolution
  • Galaxy: stellar content
  • Galaxy: structure
  • Surveys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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