New atomic data for trans-iron elements and their application to abundance determinations in planetary nebulae

N. C. Sterling, M. C. Witthoeft, D. A. Esteves, R. C. Bilodeau, A. L.D. Kilcoyne, E. C. Red, R. A. Phaneuf, G. Alnawashi, A. Aguilar

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9 Scopus citations


Investigations of neutron(n)-capture element nucleosynthesis and chemical evolution have largely been based on stellar spectroscopy. However, the recent detection of these elements in several planetary nebulae (PNe) indicates that nebular spectroscopy is a promising new tool for such studies. In PNe, n-capture element abundance determinations reveal details of s-process nucleosynthesis and convective mixing in evolved low-mass stars, as well as the chemical evolution of elements that cannot be detected in stellar spectra. Only one or two ions of a given trans-iron element can typically be detected in individual nebulae. Elemental abundance determinations thus require corrections for the abundances of unobserved ions. Such corrections rely on the availability of atomic data for processes that control the ionization equilibrium of nebulae (e.g., photoionization cross sections and rate coefficients for various recombination processes). Until recently, these data were unknown for virtually all n-capture element ions. For the first six ions of Se, Kr, and Xe - the three most widely detected n-capture elements in PNe - we are calculating photoionization cross sections and radiative and dielectronic recombination rate coefficients using the multi-configuration Breit-Pauli atomic structure code AUTOSTRUCTURE. Charge transfer rate coefficients are being determined with a multichannel Landau-Zener code. To calibrate these calculations, we have measured absolute photoionization cross sections of Se and Xe ions at the Advanced Light Source synchrotron radiation facility. These atomic data can be incorporated into photoionization codes, which we will use to derive ionization corrections (hence abundances) for Se, Kr, and Xe in ionized nebulae. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we will investigate the effects of atomic data uncertainties on the derived abundances, illuminating the systems and atomic processes that require further analysis. These results are critical for honing nebular spectroscopy into a more effective tool for investigating the production and chemical evolution of trans-iron elements in the Universe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-385
Number of pages7
JournalCanadian Journal of Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011


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