Is HE 0107-5240 a primordial star? The characteristics of extremely metal-poor carbon-rich stars

Takuma Suda, Masayuki Aikawa, Masahiro N. Machida, Masayuki Y. Fujimoto, Icko Iben

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194 Citations (Scopus)


We discuss the origin of HE 0107-5240, which, with a metallicity of [Fe/H] = -5.3, is the most iron-poor star yet observed. Its discovery has an important bearing on the question of the observability of first-generation stars in our universe. In common with other stars of very small metallicity (-4 ≲ [Fe/H] ≲ -2.5), HE 0107-5240 shows a peculiar abundance pattern, including large enhancements of C, N, and O, and a more modest enhancement of Na. The observed abundance pattern can be explained by nucleosynthesis and mass transfer in a first-generation binary star, which, after birth, accretes matter from a primordial cloud mixed with the ejectum of a supernova. We elaborate the binary scenario on the basis of our current understanding of the evolution and nucleosynthesis of extremely metal-poor, low-mass model stars and discuss the possibility of discriminating this scenario from others. In our picture, iron-peak elements arise in surface layers of the component stars by accretion of gas from the polluted primordial cloud, pollution occurring after the birth of the binary. To explain the observed C, N, O, and Na enhancements, as well as the 12C/13C ratio, we suppose that the currently observed star, once the secondary in a binary, accreted matter from a chemically evolved companion, which is now a white dwarf. To estimate the abundances in the matter transferred in the binary, we rely on the results of computations of model stars constructed with up-to-date input physics. Nucleosynthesis in a helium-flash-driven convective zone into which hydrogen has been injected is followed, allowing us to explain the origin in the primary of the observed O and Na enrichments and to discuss the abundances of s-process elements. From the observed abundances, we conclude that HE 0107-5240 has evolved from a wide binary (of initial separation ∼20 AU) with a primary of initial mass in the range 1.2-3 M. On the assumption that the system now consists of a white dwarf and a red giant, the present binary separation and period are estimated at ≃34 AU and a period of ≃150 yr, respectively. We also conclude that the abundance distribution of heavy s-process elements may hold the key to a satisfactory understanding of the origin of HE 0107-5240. An enhancement of [Pb/Fe] ≃ 1-2 should be observed if HE 0107-5240 is a second-generation star, formed from gas already polluted with iron-group elements. If the enhancement of main-line s-process elements is not detected, HE 0107-5240 may be a first-generation secondary in a binary system with a primary of mass less than 2.5 M, born from gas of primordial composition, produced in the big bang, and subsequently subjected to surface pollution by accretion of gas from the parent cloud metal-enriched by mixing with the ejectum of a supernova.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)476-493
Number of pages18
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
Publication statusPublished - Aug 10 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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