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Physics  2012 

The helium content of globular clusters: NGC6121 (M4)

DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/748/1/62

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He has been proposed as a key element to interpret the observed multiple MS, SGB, and RGB, as well as the complex horizontal branch (HB) morphology. Stars belonging to the bluer part of the HB, are thought to be more He rich (\Delta Y=0.03 or more) and more Na-rich/O-poor than those located in the redder part. This hypothesis was only partially confirmed in NGC 6752, where stars of the redder zero-age HB showed a He content of Y=0.25+-0.01, fully compatible with the primordial He content of the Universe, and were all Na-poor/O-rich. Here we study hot blue HB (BHB) stars in the GC NGC 6121 (M4) to measure their He plus O/Na content. We observed 6 BHB stars using the UVES@VLT2 spectroscopic facility. In addition to He, O, Na, and Fe abundances were estimated. Stars turned out to be all Na-rich and O-poor and to have a homogeneous enhanced He content with a mean value of Y=0.29+-0.01(random)+-0.01(systematic). The high He content of blue HB stars in M4 is also confirmed by the fact that they are brighter than red HB stars (RHB). Theoretical models suggest the BHB stars are He-enhanced by \Delta Y=0.02-0.03 with respect to the RHB stars. The whole sample of stars has a metallicity of [Fe/H]=-1.06+-0.02 (internal error). This is a rare direct measurement of the (primordial) He abundance for stars belonging to the Na-rich/O-poor population of GC stars in a temperature regime where the He content is not altered by sedimentation or extreme mixing as suggested for the hottest, late helium flash HB stars. Our results support theoretical predictions that the Na-rich/O-poor population is also more He-rich than the Na-poor/O-rich generation and that a leading contender for the 2^{nd} parameter is the He abundance.


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