Theoretical models of the planetary nebula populations in galaxies: The ISM oxygen abundance when star formation stops *,**,***
DAEC, Observatoire de Meudon, F-92195 Meudon Cedex, France
2 Department of Physics & Astronomy, York University, 4700 Keele Street, North York, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3
3 Institute of Astronomy, University of Tokyo, Mitaka, Tokyo 181, Japan
Send offprint request to: M.G. Richer
Accepted: 2 July 1996
Using theoretical models of the planetary nebula populations in galaxies, we investigate whether the current oxygen abundances in bright planetary nebulae can be used to predict the oxygen abundance in the interstellar medium when star formation stopped. These models successfully reproduce a constant planetary nebula luminosity function (PNLF) peak luminosity, the PNLF shape in galaxies with and without star formation, and the mean densities and oxygen abundances observed in bright planetary nebulae in the Magellanic Clouds. To accomplish this, we had to couple the evolution of the nebular shell and the central star, and impose a mass-dependent nebular covering factor. In all galaxies, these models predict that a gap develops between the abundances observed in bright planetary nebulae and those in the interstellar medium when star formation stopped. This abundance gap depends primarily upon the oxygen abundance achieved in the interstellar medium when star formation stopped, though it also has some sensitivity to the history of star formation. The abundance gap is always less than 0.35dex in these models. For the Milky Way, the predicted abundance gap, 0.14dex, is identical to that observed. We also re-examined spectroscopic observations of planetary nebulae in diffuse elliptical galaxies to determine their interstellar medium oxygen abundances when they stopped forming stars. Allowing for the abundance gap magnifies the chemical differences between diffuse ellipticals and dwarf irregulars found by Richer & McCall (1995). Diffuse ellipticals are confirmed to have larger oxygen abundances than similarly luminous dwarf irregulars, and to have larger [O/Fe] ratios than dwarf irregulars with the same oxygen abundance. The simplest explanation for both of these observations is that diffuse ellipticals formed the majority of their stars on shorter time scales than dwarf irregulars, so diffuse ellipticals cannot be the faded remnants of dwarf irregulars.
Key words: galaxies: abundances, evolution, stellar content / ISM: planetary nebulae: general / stars: AGB and post-AGB
Observations discussed in this paper were obtained at the Multiple Mirror Telescope Observatory, a joint facility of the University of Arizona and the Smithsonian Institution.
Observations discussed in this paper were obtained at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, operated by the National Research Council of Canada, le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique de France, and the University of Hawaii.
© European Southern Observatory (ESO), 1997