On the Use of Field RR Lyrae as Galactic Probes. III. The α-element Abundances

Crestani, J.; Braga, V. F.; Fabrizio, M.; Bono, G.; Sneden, C.; Preston, G.; Ferraro, I.; Iannicola, G.; Nonino, M.; Fiorentino, G.; Thévenin, F.; Lemasle, B.; Prudil, Z.; Alves-Brito, A.; Altavilla, G.; Chaboyer, B.; Dall'Ora, M.; D'Orazi, V.; Gilligan, C.; Grebel, E. K.; Koch-Hansen, A. J.; Lala, H.; Marengo, M.; Marinoni, S.; Marrese, P. M.; Martínez-Vázquez, C.; Matsunaga, N.; Monelli, M.; Mullen, J. P.; Neeley, J.; da Silva, R.; Stetson, P. B.; Salaris, M.; Storm, J.; Valenti, E.; Zoccali, M.
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The Astrophysical Journal

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We provide the largest and most homogeneous sample of α-element (Mg, Ca, Ti) and iron abundances for field RR Lyrae (RRLs; 162 variables) by using high-resolution spectra. The current measurements were complemented with similar abundances available in the literature for 46 field RRLs brought to our metallicity scale. We ended up with a sample of old (t ≥ 10 Gyr), low-mass stellar tracers (208 RRLs: 169 fundamental, 38 first overtone, and 1 mixed mode) covering 3 dex in iron abundance (-3.00 ≤ [Fe/H] ≤ 0.24). We found that field RRLs are ∼0.3 dex more α poor than typical halo tracers in the metal-rich regime ([Fe/H] ≥ -1.2), while in the metal-poor regime ([Fe/H] ≤ -2.2) they seem to be on average ∼0.1 dex more α enhanced. This is the first time that the depletion in α elements for solar iron abundances is detected on the basis of a large, homogeneous, and coeval sample of old stellar tracers. Interestingly, we also detected a close similarity in the [α/Fe] trend between α-poor, metal-rich RRLs and red giants (RGs) in the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy as well as between α-enhanced, metal-poor RRLs and RGs in ultrafaint dwarf galaxies. These results are supported by similar elemental abundances for 46 field horizontal branch stars. These stars share with RRLs the same evolutionary phase and the same progenitors. This evidence further supports the key role that old stellar tracers play in constraining the early chemical enrichment of the halo and, in particular, in investigating the impact that dwarf galaxies have had in the mass assembly of the Galaxy. * Based on observations obtained with the du Pont telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, operated by Carnegie Institution for Science. Based in part on data collected at Subaru Telescope, which is operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. Based partly on data obtained with the STELLA robotic telescopes in Tenerife, an AIP facility jointly operated by AIP and IAC. Some of the observations reported in this paper were obtained with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). Based on observations made with the Italian Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG) operated on the island of La Palma by the Fundación Galileo Galilei of the INAF (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica) at the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. Based on observations collected at the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.
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