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Astron. Astrophys. 355, 299-307 (2000)

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Atomic diffusion in metal poor stars

The influence on the Main Sequence fitting distance scale, subdwarfs ages and the value of [FORMULA]

M. Salaris 1,2, M.A.T. Groenewegen 2 and A. Weiss 2

1 Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, Twelve Quays House, Egerton Wharf, Birkenhead CH41 1LD, UK
2 Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 1, 85740 Garching, Germany

Received 28 October 1999 / Accepted 12 January 2000


The effect of atomic diffusion on the Main Sequence (MS) of metal-poor low mass stars is investigated. Since diffusion alters the stellar surface chemical abundances with respect to their initial values, one must ensure - by calibrating the initial chemical composition of the theoretical models - that the surface abundances of the models match the observed ones of the stellar population under scrutiny. When properly calibrated, our models with diffusion reproduce well within the errors the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of Hipparcos subdwarfs with empirically determined [FORMULA] values and high resolution spectroscopical [Fe/H] determinations.

Since the observed surface abundances of subdwarfs are different from the initial ones due to the effect of diffusion, while the globular clusters stellar abundances are measured in Red Giants, which have practically recovered their initial abundances after the dredge-up, the isochrones to be employed for studying globular clusters and Halo subdwarfs with the same observational value of [Fe/H] are different and do not coincide. This is at odds with the basic assumption of the MS-fitting technique for distance determinations. However, the use of the rather large sample of Hipparcos lower MS subdwarfs with accurate parallaxes keeps at minimum the effect of these differences, for two reasons. First, it is possible to use subdwarfs with observed [Fe/H] values close to the cluster one; this minimizes the colour corrections (which are derived from the isochrones) needed to reduce all the subdwarfs to a mono-metallicity sequence having the same [Fe/H] than the cluster. Second, one can employ objects sufficiently faint so that the differences between the subdwarfs and cluster MS with the same observed value of [Fe/H] are small (they increase for increasing luminosity). We find therefore that the distances based on standard isochrones are basically unaltered when diffusion is taken properly into account.

On the other hand, the absolute ages, the age dispersion, the age-metallicity relation for Halo subdwarfs, as well as the value of the helium enrichment ratio [FORMULA] obtained from the width of the empirical Halo subdwarfs MS, are all significantly modified when the properly calibrated isochrones with diffusion are used.

Key words: diffusion – stars: abundances – stars: distances – stars: Hertzsprung – Russel (HR) and C-M diagrams – Galaxy: globular clusters: general

Send offprint requests to: M. Salaris (ms@staru1.livjm.ac.uk)

© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: March 17, 2000