The Chemical Imprint Of Silicate Dust On The Most Metal-Poor Stars
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We investigate the impact of dust-induced gas fragmentation on the formation of the first low-mass, metal-poor stars (<1 M-circle dot) in the early universe. Previous work has shown the existence of a critical dust-to-gas ratio, below which dust thermal cooling cannot cause gas fragmentation. Assuming that the first dust is silicon-based, we compute critical dust-to-gas ratios and associated critical silicon abundances ([Si/H](crit)). At the density and temperature associated with protostellar disks, we find that a standard Milky Way grain size distribution gives [Si/H](crit) = -4.5 +/- 0.1, while smaller grain sizes created in a supernova reverse shock give [Si/H](crit) = -5.3 +/- 0.1. Other environments are not dense enough to be influenced by dust cooling. We test the silicate dust cooling theory by comparing to silicon abundances observed in the most iron-poor stars ([Fe/H] < -4.0). Several stars have silicon abundances low enough to rule out dust-induced gas fragmentation with a standard grain size distribution. Moreover, two of these stars have such low silicon abundances that even dust with a shocked grain size distribution cannot explain their formation. Adding small amounts of carbon dust does not significantly change these conclusions. Additionally, we find that these stars exhibit either high carbon with low silicon abundances or the reverse. A silicate dust scenario thus suggests that the earliest low-mass star formation in the most metal-poor regime may have proceeded through two distinct cooling pathways: fine-structure line cooling and dust cooling. This naturally explains both the carbon-rich and carbon-normal stars at extremely low [Fe/H].