Carbon and oxygen abundances in low metallicity dwarf galaxies

Danielle A. Berg, Evan D. Skillman, Richard B.C. Henry, Dawn K. Erb, Leticia Carigi

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The study of carbon and oxygen abundances yields information on the time evolution and nucleosynthetic origins of these elements, yet they remain relatively unexplored. At low metallicities, (12+log(O/H) < 8.0), nebular carbon measurements are limited to rest-frame UV collisionally excited emission lines. Therefore, we present the UV spectrophotometry of 12 nearby low-metallicity high-ionization H ii regions in dwarf galaxies obtained using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope. We present the first analysis of the C/O ratio in local galaxies based solely on simultaneous significant detections of the UV and collisionally excited lines in seven of our targets and five objects from the literature to create a final sample of 12 significant detections. Our sample is complemented by optical SDSS spectra, from which we measured the nebular physical conditions and oxygen abundances using the direct method. At low metallicity, (12+log(O/H) < 8.0), no clear trend is evident in C/O versus O/H for the present sample given the large dispersion observed. When combined with recombination line observations at higher values of O/H, a general trend of increasing C/O with increasing O/H is also viable but with some significant outliers. Additionally, we find the C/N ratio appears to be constant (but with significant scatter) over a large range in oxygen abundance, indicating that carbon is predominantly produced by similar nucleosynthetic mechanisms as nitrogen. If true, and our current understanding of nitrogen production is correct, this would indicate that primary production of carbon (a flat trend) dominates at low metallicity, but quasi-secondary production (an increasing trend) becomes prominent at higher metallicities. A larger sample will be needed to determine the true nature and dispersion of the relation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 20 2016


  • H II regions
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: abundances
  • galaxies: dwarf
  • galaxies: evolution

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