Bubble space telescope faint object spectroscope spectroscopy of localized chemical enrichment from massive stars in NGC 5253

Henry A. Kobulnicky, Evan D. Skillman, Jean René Roy, J. R. Walsh, Michael R. Rosa

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Optical and ultraviolet spectroscopy obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope Faint Object Spectrograph at three locations in the central H II complex of the amorphous starburst galaxy NGC 5253 confirms an apparent area of enhanced nitrogen abundance seen in ground-based studies. At two positions, N appears enhanced by a factor of 3 [log (N/O) = -0.85] compared to a third location 50 pc away where the measured N abundance is typical of metal-poor galaxies [log (N/O) = -1.30]. No other elemental species shows spatial abundance fluctuations, including C as measured from the C III] λλ1907, 1909 Å emission lines. Extinction to the emission-line regions is quite low (Av = 0.25), and we rule out reddening uncertainties as the cause of the apparent N enhancement. Comparison of the observed ionic fractions to predictions of photoionization models shows that ionization uncertainties cannot be responsible for the anomalously high N/O ratio. These findings require the existence of a N production mechanism that is decoupled from C and O production. Although the high N/He enrichment ratio is consistent with that expected from non-Type I planetary nebulae (PNs), the localized nature of the enrichment, the large number of PNs (150-500), and the long timescales (109 yr) required make this explanation highly unlikely. Given the proximity of the N overabundance to a very young, heavily obscured star cluster, we attribute the N excess to recent "pollution" from massive stars. Plausible N enrichment scenarios involve O star winds, He-deficient W-R star winds, and/or ejection events from luminous blue variables. If the N enrichment is due to localized pollution from the winds of W-R stars observed in the burst, then an accompanying He enrichment of 40% ought to be observed, but we are able to rule out He enhancements at the 2 σ level at both locations showing N enhancement. We . propose that if the N-rich wind or ejecta is incorporated into self-gravitating clumps of molecular gas, and if the 106 yr old clusters of massive stars in starburst galaxies are precursors of globular clusters, then N-overabundant halo and globular cluster stars in the Galaxy may owe their chemical peculiarity to similar N-enrichment episodes early in the history of the Milky Way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)679-692
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART I
StatePublished - 1997


  • Galaxies: ISM galaxies: starburst
  • Galaxies: abundances
  • Galaxies: individual (NGC 5253)


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