Unveiling the chemical fingerprint of phosphorus-rich stars. I. In the infrared region of APOGEE-2

Brauner, Maren; Masseron, Thomas; García-Hernández, D. A.; Pignatari, Marco; Womack, Kate A.; Lugaro, Maria; Hayes, Christian R.
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Astronomy and Astrophysics

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Context The origin of phosphorus, one of the essential elements for life on Earth, is currently unknown. Prevalent models of Galactic chemical evolution (GCE) systematically underestimate the amount of P compared to observations, especially at low metallicities. The recently discovered P-rich ([P/Fe] ≳ 1.2 dex) and metal-poor ([Fe/H] ≃ −1.0 dex) giants further challenge the GCE models, calling current theories on stellar nucleosynthesis into question.
Aims: Since the observed low-mass giants are not expected to produce their high P contents themselves, our primary goal is to find clues on their progenitor or polluter. By increasing the number of known P-rich stars, we aim to narrow down a statistically reliable chemical abundance pattern that defines these peculiar stars. In this way, we place more robust constraints on the nucleosynthetic mechanism that causes the unusually high P abundances. In the long term, identifying the progenitor of the P-rich stars may contribute to the search for the source of P in our Galaxy.
Methods: We performed a detailed chemical abundance analysis based on the high-resolution near-infrared (H band) spectra from the latest data release (DR17) of the APOGEE-2 survey. Employing the BACCHUS code, we measured the abundances of 13 elements in the inspected sample, which is mainly composed of a recent collection of Si-enhanced giants. We also analyzed the orbital motions and compared the abundance results to possible nucleosynthetic formation scenarios, and also to detailed GCE models. These models were produced with the OMEGA+ chemical evolution code, using four different massive star yield sets to investigate different scenarios for massive star evolution.
Results: We enlarged the sample of confirmed P-rich stars from 16 to a group of 78 giants, which represents the largest sample of P-rich stars to date. The sample includes the first detection of a P-rich star in a Galactic globular cluster. Significant enhancements in O, Al, Si, and Ce, as well as systematic correlations among the studied elements, unveil the unique chemical fingerprint of the P-rich stars. In contrast, the high [Mg/Fe] and [(C+N)/Fe] found in some of the P-rich stars with respect to P-normal stars is not confirmed over the full sample because of the current uncertainties. Strikingly, the strong overabundance in the α-element Si is accompanied by normal Ca and S abundances. This is at odds with current stellar nucleosynthesis models of massive stars. Our analysis of the orbital motion showed that the P-rich stars do not belong to a locally specific population in the Galaxy. In addition, we confirm that the majority of the sample stars are not part of binary systems.

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