A chemical abundance analysis of stars believed to be metal poor members of the galactic stellar thick disk

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2006-05

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Simmerer, Jennifer Ann

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Abstract

Galactic formation models have long sought to reproduce the observed chemical and kinematical properties of the Milky Way's stellar halo and disk. Recently it is the so-called "intermediate population", the stellar thick disk, that is driving advances in our understanding of the formation of spiral galaxies. The thick disk is kinematically more like the thin disk than the halo, for all the thick disk has a velocity dispersion twice that of the thin disk and rotates ~40 km/s more slowly. It is generally accepted that the thick disk's metallicity distribution function peaks at a lower metallicity than the thin disk but at higher metallicity than the halo. The lower bound of the thick disk is still uncertain, as many observational studies have found only a few thick disk candidate stars or clusters that are more metal poor than (Fe/H)=1. Beers et al. (2002) have so far proposed the largest sample of metal poor thick disk candidates, presenting 9 stars at (Fe/H)= -1.2 or lower and 46 more stars at (Fe/H)= -1 or lower, all of which are believed to belong to the thick disk. Beers et al. (2002) present possible thick disk stars as metal poor as (Fe/H)~ -2.5, roughly 1 dex lower than is suggested by current Galactic formation models (Brook et al., 2005). This study is a high-resolution spectroscopic follow-up of 29 of the stars Beers et al. (2002) and Chiba & Beers (2000) identify as potential metal poor members of the thick disk and an additional 40 stars from the cannonical thick disk, halo, and thin disk. None of the very metal-poor stars identified by Beers et al. (2002) can be confirmed as members of the thick disk and many are not metal poor at all. Only two stars more metal poor than (Fe/H)= 1.2 retain their thick disk membership. These two stars exhibit some of the chemical characteristics of the cannonical thick disk: high α-element abundances and a relatively low s--/r-- process element ratio. Also of interest are six stars with thin disk kinematic signatures but thick disk α-element abundances. That only a small number of metal poor thick disk stars could be confirmed in this study indicates that the thick disk is neither as populous nor as metal poor as has been proposed by Beers et al. (2002).

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